'Animatrix' Set for Day-and-Date Premiere

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The cable industry, which has long clamored for day-and-date release notification about Hollywood movies, will get its wish on June 3, 2003.

On that date, Warner Bros. will release The Animatrix on DVD, home video, video-on-demand, pay-per-view and the broadband Internet — simultaneously.

The Animatrix
— based on The Matrix movie franchise — is not a traditional movie, nor has it been released in theaters. Rather, it's a collection of nine animated shorts based on the films, totaling 90 minutes.

Four of those shorts are now online (www.intothematrix.com).

Engaging experience

While the distribution move may strike some in cable as unconventional, it fits perfectly with the Matrix
experience. Matrix-related hype should soon reach a fever pitch, beginning with the May 15 premiere of The Matrix Reloaded, the sequel to the 1999 film that generated more than $175 million at the U.S. box office.

The sequel is expected to be just as huge, if not larger, because of the franchise's cult following and dazzling special effects. That helped drive the creators of both films, led by Joel Silver, to develop the nine animated shorts grouped under The Animatrix
aegis.

"The online shorts are getting such a good response," said Michelle Edelman, vice president of marketing, Warner Home Video, VOD and PPV. "This is like a new-feature release."

Warner's belief is that people who want to own The Animatrix will buy the DVD, while those that want to rent it, will view via on VOD, PPV or an Internet download from Movielink.com. Both needs can be satisfied the same day, giving Warner Bros. some advertising and marketing efficiencies.

Edelman said a four-and-one-half-minute DVD promotional teaser has been sent to video stores. Comcast Corp. plans to run that teaser in the animation section of its Philadelphia VOD service.

The studio also is working on clearance rights that would allow cable operators to carry that teaser on their broadband Internet platforms.

Direct-mail muscle

The studio also plans to put some marketing muscle behind the June 3 launch. Edelman said Warner Bros. will send out 2.5 million direct mail pieces to digital-cable subscribers and 2 million pieces to subscribers of satellite provider DirecTV Inc. — twice as many messages as the company typically distributes for movie releases.

From the studio's perspective, the goal is to use the same marketing campaign to simultaneously drive DVD sales and cable, satellite or Internet rentals. The endeavor's success could go along way toward determining if cable and other platforms can close the rental gap with home video.

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