Moviefone is hanging up

New York Times News ServiceFebruary 23, 2014 


Moviefone, which once took 3 million calls a week, is being disconnected in March 2014, officials say


Mr. Moviefone’s lines are going dead.

For 25 years, residents of America’s biggest cities have been able to call 777-FILM to receive movie listing information and buy tickets. The service’s goofily booming greeting became a cultural catchphrase: “Hello, and welcome to Moviefone!”

Over the weekend, callers were told that the automated service would soon go silent, overtaken by new technology and shifting consumer habits.

“The 777-FILM numbers will no longer be in service in the near future,” intones a man with a voice decidedly scrawnier in timbre than Mr. Moviefone’s. “To buy tickets and for all of your showtime information please download the free Moviefone app on your smartphone or iPad.”

Russ Leatherman, a founder of Moviefone who provided the famous greeting, left the company in November.

The automated telephone service will be disconnected in about a month, before a planned reintroduction of the Moviefone brand by AOL and BermanBraun, a Web and television company.

“The call-in service has been in pretty steady decline,” Jeff Berman, president of BermanBraun, said in a telephone interview. “Our customers are much more interested in our award-winning app, and we need to invest our resources in the future, part of which involves a major reimagining of Moviefone.”

He declined to provide details.

At its peak in the mid-1990s, Moviefone received more than 3 million calls a week. Berman declined to say what that weekly figure is now. An AOL executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid a conflict with Berman, said “thousands” of people continue to call.

Informed by a reporter of the decision to end 777-FILM, Andrew Jarecki, a Moviefone founder, said he was sad but not surprised.

“It’s a missed opportunity and unfortunately characterizes the way AOL has mismanaged the Moviefone business for quite a while,” Jarecki said. “The fact that a lot of people still call — hundreds of thousands a month, from what I have been told — shows that it isn’t some ancient idea.”

AOL responded in an emailed statement, “Moviefone is one of the best-known brands in entertainment, and we believe it can mesh seamlessly with AOL’s strategic focus on premium content and video.”

It may be a technological dinosaur now, but 777-FILM was cutting edge for its time. Jarecki and his associates changed the way many Americans learned about showtimes by creating a reliable automated directory, initially amassing information from 13,000 screens in 31 cities.

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