Summary:

The Berlin-based IMDB rival Moviepilot, which is already working with film studios to give them better understanding of their projects’ fanbase, has secured funding to put a sales team in LA

Tobi Bauckhage, moviepilot CEO

When you want to follow the development of a new movie, who do you turn to for news and rumours? And if you’re a film studio, how do you find out about the potential fans who are interested in your project?

Berlin’s Moviepilot.com, which is making its big push into the U.S., hopes to kill both birds with one stone. And, judging from the $7 million Series B round it revealed on Thursday, it’s armed with a boulder.

The round was led by new investor DFJ Esprit, along with Deutsche Telekom’s T-Venture, Grazia Equity and Creative Industries Berlin — all of which have already been backing the site’s German incarnation, moviepilot.de.

That German version is quite a different beast, however. It’s a Google-driven rumor and recommendation site that in turn powers Telekom’s T-Entertain IPTV package, and it’s very successful, with two million monthly uniques and 1.4 million Facebook fans. In fact, that makes it Germany’s most popular Facebook page, bar that for soccer team Bayern Munich.

But, as CEO and co-founder Tobi Bauckhage told me, it was only a first step:

“Based on the recommendations and based on this Facebook understanding, we said we had a chance from Berlin to create a new generation movie site that is concentrating on early fans, using the Social Graph and the Open Graph to learn about the fans, and kickstart recommendations based on that.”

So in October last year the startup opened Moviepilot.com, an English-language second iteration that’s plugged into a separate Facebook page that’s already amassed four million fans. Combined, the two services constitute the social network’s largest movie fan community.

Fans can use the service to discover new projects and follow them — one of Moviepilot’s many facets is that of a curated, personalised news site. And for the studios, the community can provide some sorely-needed marketing insight.

“We’ve always thought the real power of tech is not the distribution but discovery, not even of films, but discovery of audiences,” Bauckhage, a film-maker himself, said. “Discovery and recommendation is still supply-driven, but we’re moving to a model where you have to learn about your audience and build audiences.”

Audience insights

The problem, Bauckhage explained, is that the whole industry revolves around the opening weekend.

“It’s a supply-driven industry with a very limited shelfspace, with only a limited number of cinemas and screening rooms,” he said. “The anomaly of this industry is that you have a market entry phase of only 48 hours – this predetermines the money you’ll make in the whole lifecycle of the movie.”

So what do studios do? Generally, they launch a barrage of poorly-targeted advertising just before the all-important weekend. Moviepilot.com is in a position to tell them who’s following their projects, right from the first rumour to the release.

“For example, we had 15,000 fans for the Avengers before the film came out,” Bauckhage explained. “They use Facebook Connect to follow a project, and we get information back from the fans and understand what the fanbase is made of. We can see that, hypothetically speaking, they are 15 times more likely to be Buffy fans – we believe that the real dimension of how you understand audiences is not demographics, but taste.”

And the industry already seems to be lapping it up. Twentieth Century Fox is currently paying Moviepilot to promote the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to early fans, and the studio knows it will get very granular data in return. Universal, Disney and Paramount are also clients.

So there you have it: Moviepilot is a pretty unique combination of fansite, rumour and news aggregator, and social marketing agency. Its new funding will allow it to open an office in Los Angeles this year, with a dedicated sales team in tow.

The likes of IMDB and Flixster should be watching this development with a concerned eye.

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