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"Spider-Man" uses Web to lure fans

Film fans looking for information about the new "Spider-Man" movie may find themselves tangled in a web of online promotions.

Film fans looking for information about Friday's premiere of the new "Spider-Man" movie may find themselves tangled in a web of online promotions.

From online auctions to the film's official Web site, Sony Pictures has turned to the Internet to create a buzz for its latest flick.

Many of the studio's Web promotions have started on its own sites. Sony released "Spider-Man" trailers online before they began appearing in theaters. It is letting moviegoers buy theater tickets through the film's official Web site, Fandango, and other sites. Web users can also download "Spider-Man" icons for AOL Instant Messenger, "skins" for Windows Media Player, screensavers and other images from the film's site.

The online marketing efforts appear to have paid off. Over the last few months, traffic has increased to Sony's "Spider-Man" site, which also features memorabilia such as action figures, books, posters and a soundtrack. Research firm Nielsen/NetRatings said the Web site attracted 518,475 unique users in March, up from 345,490 unique users in December.

Sony has moved its promotions to other sites as well. This week, the company began auctioning props and costumes on eBay, including signed posters, an authentic Spider-Man costume worn by Tobey Maguire, and a dress worn by actress Kirsten Dunst.

Sony's online marketing efforts underscore how studios are increasingly using the Net to spin hype around upcoming films. Last year, New Line Cinema set up a Web site for "The Lord of the Rings" that gave Hobbit fans a sneak peek of exclusive footage. "The Blair Witch Project," "Austin Powers" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" also successfully used the Internet to help score at the box office.

In November, thousands of people logged on to the Net to buy movie tickets for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" instead of standing in line at theaters.

"Why is ("Spider-Man") sold out in advance, and why is there so much hoopla around going to the film tonight? Because of the Internet," said Stacey Herron, entertainment and media analyst at Jupiter Research. "These major blockbuster pictures are changing the way people plan to go to the movies, and the Internet is really having an impact on how people perceive going to see a film instead of just cruising by the theater."