On June 5, LucasFilm, the makers of the blockbuster space-fantasy film series, will offer a sneak preview of its redesigned Web site and first-ever online subscription service. Called Starwars.com Hyperspace, the new annual membership area will let movie fans track the filming of "Star Wars: Episode III," which starts production in Australia in June, via a Webcam, among other perks.
The sneak preview of Hyperspace and the Web site is free to visitors, but the full site opens June 10, with annual fees of $19.95 for the subscription area only. The general site, with movie information, will still be free.
LucasFilm, whose interactive arm, Lucas Online, manages the Web site, is embarking on relatively new territory online with a movie-fan subscription area, given that only a few film franchises have such a loyal following that they may be willing to pay for exclusive material. The company said that the site, which launched in 1996, attracts nearly 4 million people a month and up to 7 million a month during film releases.
That Starwars.com will debut Hyperspace illustrates the momentum building around paid online services. Web publishers of all stripes are desperately trying to find content of value to visitors to create demand and loyalty for their subscriptions, especially to recoup their Internet investments.
"Star Wars is unique in the entertainment industry because of its fans," said John Singh, spokesman for LucasFilm.
He added that the unit's top goal is to create a great site, but that for more advanced features, the fees are necessary, but affordable.
"It's less than a subscription to a magazine. And it's a way to have a little bit of Star Wars with you all year," Singh said.
Among other features of the service, subscribers to Hyperspace will be able to watch never-before-seen deleted scenes from "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones." They will also be able to sign up for a Star Wars e-mail address of their choice, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, and have it forwarded to their regular mail account. Another benefit will be daily reports on the filming of the third movie.
Starwars.com was arguably the first film site to stream a film trailer in 1998, when "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" came out. Singh said that at the time, more than 25 million people downloaded the trailer, streamed using Apple technology, in just six months.