When Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad sat down for a recent interview to promote their new movie about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, they turned to an unlikely partner – Google, the company Jobs once labeled evil. What’s even stranger is they used Google Plus, the company's oft-maligned social network.
Google Plus may not have the user base of Facebook or the cachet of Twitter, but it does have Hangouts, which let people video chat from every corner of the globe.
Hollywood has latched onto Hangouts as a cost-efficient — and fan friendly — way to promote movies. When Kutcher and Gad sat down for their conversation with Fandango's Dave Karger, for instance, Kutcher was in Chicago while Gad was in Washington, D.C.
"It could revolutionize the modern press junket " Courtney Harris, VP of digital marketing at Open Road, the distributor of "Jobs," enthused to TheWrap. "It gets talent out in front of a wider audience."
At traditional press junkets, studios arrange to have a film’s creative team all in one place as a convoy of journalists parade in and out of a hotel in a major city to ask the same questions over and over again. Those interviews then post at various times over the next few weeks, either on TV, on a website or in a print outlet.
Hangouts bring fans into the process and make these interviews available to anyone with access to the internet. Fans can see stars talk from the comfort of their home, ask them questions and watch it live.
Though Skype and Apple's FaceTime operate a similar way, you can involve up to 10 people in a Hangout without paying a fee; on Skype, you have to pay for more than two. Another bonus for studio marketers: Google apps like Docs and YouTube are also built-in to Hangouts, which can stream live on YouTube and other platforms.
When Kutcher and Gad took part in their hangout, the conversation streamed on YouTube, Google Plus and Fandango, making it accessible to millions of fans across the nation. You can even still watch it if you want to right here.
The ability to stage interviews with stars scattered on sets, in villas or at home is one of many reasons studios have embraced Hangouts, which have been part of the campaigns for everything from "Fast & Furious 6" and "Lincoln" to "Jobs."
Another is that it deepens the connection between fan and artist — an integral part of the modern entertainment industry.
Sony staged a "fan junket" for "After Earth" will Will and Jaden Smith on Hangout while Paramount hosted one for "Star Trek Into Darkness" with Chris Pine, John Cho and Alice Eve.
Even when fans aren't asking the questions, they can get involved. When "Fast 6" stars Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson took part in a Hangout Universal staged to promote "Fast 6," they could tweet in advance to the more than 11 million followers they have combined on Twitter.
That Hangout was one of four the studio used to promote the movie, each one aimed at a different demographic.
"Fast 6" grossed almost $800 million at the worldwide box office, and while that was due to far more than a few Hangouts, Doug Neil, Universal's EVP of digital marketing, said that Hangouts can "double or quadruple" the exposure for those kinds of interviews.
Google is looking at ways to expand the entertainment industry's use of Hangouts beyond junkets. One current focus is convincing studios and musicians to premiere new trailers and albums within a Hangout, according to Nikhyl Singhal, product director at Google Plus.
DreamWorks and Disney debuted a trailer for "Lincoln" last year in a Hangout where director Steven Spielberg and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt were talking about the film (right). Fox debuted a trailer for "The Internship," a film in which Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn intern at Google, on the company's social platform.
While Yahoo and Apple have long been destinations for debuting new clips from movies, Google Plus has captured studio attention thanks to the initial success of debuting trailers in Hangouts.
One executive who declined to be identified said that Summit saw such strong response by debuting a teaser for "Ender’s Game" in a Google Hangout that his studio was now considering doing the same for one of its biggest fall titles.
"The state of art before was to just post that content, but what we can do is connect fans to the artists in that very special moment," Singhal told TheWrap. "With Bruno Mars, he can see the fans hearing his album for the first time. You get this rush. The fans get this intimate connection back to the process of making things they’ve come to love."
Singhal's next step is convincing studios to integrate Hangouts into that creative process. Hangouts could enable the stars of a movie to speak directly with fans from the set, building buzz well before the traditional marketing campaign of trailers and posters begins.
The ability to identify and develop a potential audience for a movie early on in the process is one reason people are so excited about crowdfunding. It’s also why marketing executives at most studios stress that their stars should be using social networks during production.
Hangouts would take that to the next level, Neil said, because it enables fans to see the talent.
Executives at the studios are cautious when it comes to on-set Hangouts, reluctant to force stars to squeeze them into a hectic production. Yet the appeal is undeniable.
"You have someone sitting at home and they log in to Hangout and talk to the talent of your film," Neil said. "That’s an amazing one-on-one experience."