Movies.com, the Walt Disney Co. online destination for movie fans that once had ambitious plans to deliver feature films over the Internet, is getting another makeover, boosting editorial coverage and adding Hollywood gossip columnist Jeanne Wolf to its lineup.
The small but profitable http://www.Movies.com will continue making money by selling online advertising and through e-commerce relationships with MovieTickets.com and Amazon.com, though it will adopt a more independent editorial posture, said executive vp Ken Goldstein, managing director of Disney Online.
"We're really creating an arms-length relationship with Disney," Goldstein said. "It's a big deal, and the only way to go for a media company."
In addition to Wolf's column, new content includes "The Tipster," a daily digest of breaking Hollywood news; "Carpet Burn," an interactive blog picking apart celebrity and red-carpet fashion; and "DVD Spy," a weekly column about DVDs.
"We're expanding our audience and in particular adding a lot more content for women," said vp Dan Sherlock. "We've always had high marks but didn't have something differentiating us from competitors. We think this investment in original editorial features does that."
Sherlock said the new site, set to launch Tuesday, is more "immersive" and features more broadband-friendly rich media than the original, which launched in March 2002.
"In the past, the site has brought people in on weekends, but we want to bring them in on a daily basis," said Lew Harris, who was named the company's editorial director in July. "It's not considered a Disney site but a movie site. We're completely studio-agnostic."
Ebert & Roeper will still offer movie reviews, and the Muppets' curmudgeonly critics, Statler & Waldorf, will still give their cranky commentary from the balcony along with their rankings on the "Snooze-O-Meter." Harris said those and other features will encourage users to visit the site often for fear of missing out on something.
Statler & Waldorf will also star in an on-screen movie theater marketing blitz for Movies.com planned for after Christmas, Goldstein said.
Movies.com garnered 2.75 million unique visitors last month, according to Comscore Media Metrix, and is often one of the top 10 visited movie sites.
The company operates with 15 employees, some from the defunct MrShowbiz.com and Wall of Sound properties that Disney acquired from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen during the Internet bubble days.