"Hello and welcome to Moviefone!" A generation of moviegoers heard the booming, cheesy greeting when they phoned 777-FILM in major cities around the country to find out where and when films were playing. But as of this weekend, if you called the number, you'd hear: "The 777-FILM numbers will no longer be in service in the near future. To buy tickets and for all of your showtime information please download the free Moviefone app on your smartphone or iPad."
The automated telephone service will be entirely shut down in about a month, before the brand is reintroduced by AOL and web and television company BermanBraun, The New York Times reports. "The call-in service has been in pretty steady decline," Jeff Berman,
the president of BermanBraun, told The New York Times. "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."
Before film fans turned to Fandango.com or the Flixter app, they dialed Moviefone to get film times. The service held such a strong place in popular culture that it was even incorporated into a "Seinfeld" plot where Kramer's number is similar to Moviefone's and he starts replicating the service's signature voice. In the mid-1990s, the service received more than 3 million calls a week. AOL thought it was worth a stunning $388 million, which it shelled out to buy the company in 1999. AOL tried to turn Moviefone into a movie news site and outsourced the telephone service. In 2012, through a deal with Comcast-owned Fandango, AOL made Fandango the exclusive ticketing partner for Moviefone (which had previously sold tickets through MovieTickets.com).
Andrew Jarecki, one of the founders of Moviefone, told The New York Times that he and some partners tried to buy back the telephone service element of Moviefone from AOL in recent years.
"It's a missed opportunity and unfortunately characterizes the way AOL has mismanaged the Moviefone business for quite a while," Jarecki, who is also a film director ("Capturing the Friedmans"), 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."
It remains to be seen whether the Moviefone brand can be revitalized in a new form.