Does Moviefone Have to Go the Way of Kramer?

Moviefone is canning its iconic telephone line. Can the service, forever intertwined with Seinfeld's Kramer, save itself?

Feb 25, 2014 at 11:30AM

"Why don't you just tell me the name of the movie you'd like to see?"

One of Cosmo Kramer's funniest Seinfeld moments is forever intertwined with Moviefone, the telephone-based movie information product AOL (NYSE:AOL) has left with the faintest of pulses. Apps and mobile web competitors like Fandango and MovieTickets.com have cornered the market for movie tickets and show time listings. With The New York Times reporting that Moviefone's automated phone lines will soon be canned, so AOL can focus on more techy things, it got me thinking: Does the service have anything in common with Kramer, and must it meet the same end -- residing only in our nostalgia (and reruns)?

It's instantly recognizable
In terms of robotic voices, the most famous might be HAL 9000's from 2001: A Space Odyssey, followed by AOL's iconic "You've Got Mail." To anyone alive in the '90s, though, Moviefone likely sits among the top three most recognizable, with its greeting, "Hello, and welcome to Moviefone!"

Just as Kramer's appearance as a "tall, lanky doofus with a bird face and hair like the bride of Frankenstein" (another Seinfeld quote) embodies our archetype of the quirky neighbor, Moviefone co-founder Russ Leatherman's voice is synonymous with movie listings for millions of Americans.

Kramer

Source: Kramer Is Moviefone, YouTube.

It's still in demand today
While that audience is significantly smaller now than it was two decades ago -- it received over 3 million calls per week in the mid-1990s according to the Times -- the service remains in demand by some. "Hundreds of thousands" reportedly call in each month, and co-founder Andrew Jarecki told the media outlet that he's confident Moviefone "isn't some ancient idea." 

Just as Seinfeld and Kramer's antics in Jerry's apartment continue to generate billions of dollars in TV repeat fees, Moviefone has a brand that's easily recognized by Baby Boomers and Generation X. And although it's undoubtedly worth less than the $500 million in stock AOL paid for it in 1999, there's still some value on its books.

Moviefone's app is available on the Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) mobile stores, and according to App Annie, both are steadily among the top 150 entertainment offerings in the U.S. Since 2010, though, after the app was last revamped, Moviefone's popularity ranking has fallen by an average of 20 spots per year. In 2011, the app was as high as No. 3.

With another redesign on the horizon, Moviefone may be able to reel in these lost mobile users, and because so much of its revenue is derived from ads -- about 90% -- a recovery wouldn't take forever. Most buyers probably wouldn't pay AOL one-fifth of what it bought Moviefone for 15 years ago, but that's precisely what makes it so attractive. Any turnaround could boost the service's value by two to threefold. Fandango, for example, was valued at $200 million in 2007, and is likely worth much more today.

It won't be hip forever
Still, nothing lasts forever. Seinfeld and Kramer's version of humor probably won't draw as many laughs by the time today's kids have children of their own, and Moviefone's phone line lived longer than many of its peers. The company's decision to focus on mobile is smart, but a more perceptive move might be to explore streaming video.

Screen Shot

Source: Netflix.

What's the solution?
Providers like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Hulu are infamous for sometimes unnavigable menus, so much so that sites like WhichFlicks, Clicker, and Instantwatcher are essential tools for every user. A type of streaming video search engine -- grown either organically or inorganically -- makes a lot of sense for Moviefone to consider. Such a service could reintroduce Moviefone to millions of younger viewers, and AOL's size gives it resources most streaming video search sites don't have.

The bottom line
Any discussion of Moviefone should center around its brand, which still contains value. Many older movie-watchers recognize the service, and its mobile products have experienced success as well. Moviefone probably isn't worth close to $500 million any more, but it could boost its worth by pursuing another app redesign.

And although the iconic "777- FILM" phone number will be disconnected soon -- I'd recommend giving it a call to say goodbye -- there's underrated potential in streaming video. If Moviefone can expand into this realm, Russ Leatherman's voice may outlive even HAL 9000's place in pop culture.

The next step for you
Want to profit on business analysis like this? The key for your future is to turn business insights into portfolio gold through smart and steady investing … starting right now. Those who wait on the sidelines are missing out on huge gains and putting their financial futures in jeopardy. The Motley Fool is offering a new special report, an essential guide to investing, which includes access to top stocks to buy now. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.

Jake Mann has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers