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Movie clips out to tantalize Web surfers

While protesting Net piracy, movie studios are warming to the Web for promotional purposes, broadcasting longer previews of new films.

Even while protesting Net piracy, movie studios are warming to the Web for promotional purposes, broadcasting longer previews of new films.

This week, Warner Bros. is showing the first 9 minutes and 8 seconds of its upcoming thriller "Taking Lives" on Yahoo Movies, in an effort to boost awareness and ticket sales. Warner's film, starring Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie and set to debut March 19, is perhaps the most star-studded new release to become available to audiences before opening night by such means. Warner also joins a growing list of studios to give viewers a longer taste of new releases online in the hopes of filling theaters.

"Sometimes within the first 10 minutes of a movie, viewers are either hooked or not," Yahoo Movies General Manager Doug Hirsch said. "And if you're hooked, you're going to want to see that movie when it opens."

The move comes as demand for entertainment and film previews has blossomed online. High-speed Internet access has reached a mass market and is fueling desire for media-rich content. As a result, film clips and music videos are among the most in-demand content online.

In addition, the Internet is playing a bigger role in influencing consumer choices. As many as 40 percent of opening-weekend filmgoers say they learned more about the picture via the Web, according to a study by NetsEdge Research Group.

Movie studios are answering demand by experimenting with new ways to hook viewers. Earlier this year, America Online , which is backed by five major film studios, to sell feature-length films for 99 cents during a promotional period. Yahoo Movies has worked with several other studios to preview films, including Fox's "28 Days Later" and Lions Gate's "Confidence," with 7-minute to 10-minute clips.

Meanwhile, movie studios and their industry association, the Motion Picture Association of America, have been hard at work, attempting to deter Web surfers from downloading illegal copies of their films and stave off the cannibalization of DVD and theater ticket sales that hit the music labels. They're concentrating efforts on educational advertisements to sway consumers and on government lobbying to help define piracy-thwarting technology standards.

Movie studios are also promoting legitimate download services online such as Movielink and CinemaNow. For its part, Yahoo is aiming to deepen its relationship with movie studios and promote its profile for subscription services. Yahoo Movies has roughly 9.4 million unique visitors a month, according to a Nielsen/NetRatings study in January.

Online marketing isn't just for films like the "The Blair Witch Project" anymore, analysts say.

"It's has become an increasingly important channel for movies in the last few years, because it can be more compelling than what people are used to on TV," said Jim Penhune, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, a Newton, Mass.-based market researcher.