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Monday 12 July 2010

SeeFilmFirst - Paying Off Teenage Film Bloggers One Free Ticket At A Time. are a company who have recently been offering free movie tickets to film bloggers. We get the privilege of watching flicks before they come out. Just this week, they gave me a free ticket to see the re-make of 'THE KARATE KID'. Hundreds of other film bloggers were afforded the same opportunity.

Word Of Mouth is such an integral part of film marketing these days. It makes sense for a studio to want lots of people to see their movies before they officially open; because it means that by time they are on general release -- we all know lots about them. Hype, buzz, whatever you want to call it: it's likely to get more of us into the cinema and loaded up on popcorn.

The unfortunate thing is that companies like SeeFilmFirst are not just innocently giving us a chance to watch a movie for free and to blog our opinions about them. They are trying to entice us to write positive spin for their client's releases, therefore helping Sony Pictures, the distributor, make a lot of money at the box office. This works because Film Bloggers are prone to underestimating the impact of their blogs. If I write a massively positive review of 'THE KARATE KID', and 800 people read it today, it's entirely possible only a handful of those will see it. But far more of them will TALK about it. Thus, word of mouth does its magic. The other day I wrote 'The Karate Kid is surprisingly good!' on my Facebook status. A day later my brother told me that his friend had 'heard that The Karate Kid is really good!' -- when my Brother told him that I had written a status about it, the friend replied with "oh yeah, that's where I heard it!" It's as simple as that. A bit of positive feedback, and we latch onto it subconsciously - word of mouth is so powerful.

You might not think it, but film bloggers are a very powerful tool for film studios. SeeFilmFirst, in essence, act as the middle-man; hooking up the studios new releases with us little film bloggers, who are generally disgruntled film lovers who are pissed off that we don't get paid while the people writing junk in film magazines do. So when someone offers us a freebie, we jump at it. It feels great, free passes! Score!

SeeFilmFirst don't just ask for you to watch the film. They ask for you to blog about it. Not only do they want you blog about it, but they ask you to blog positively about the movie. First of all, they send you an email reminding you to write a review, otherwise you risk not getting passes to more screenings.

"Please send us links to your blogs on the film after you have posted to ensure we can keep inviting you to previews!"

I can understand that. They are giving you a chance to see a movie for free, so I can grasp why they want something in return. But then more emails come.

They offer prizes for "the review which is most likely to get the most people to go to cinema to watch The Karate Kid!" which they also refer to as a prize "for the best marketer of this film outside of Sony Pictures!"

SeeFilmFirst also actively encourage under 16's to begin blogging; showing teenagers how they can blog positively for a big corporation in order to win prizes - "Best Under 16 Reviewer:
Whether it's two lines or two pages, this award is not just for quality of review, but also how it has been shared."

Tweens are encouraged not just to write reviews that actively help films rake in millions at the box office, but they are also encouraged to share their reviews "whether its through a blog, MySpace, Facebook - whatever!"

My concern is that this is unethical and manipulative to young people. It is also concerns me that the integrity of film bloggers will be tested. It used to be that film critics would get paid off to write puff pieces, now it's a free ticket and a promise of prizes and future screenings. Being lowly film bloggers, we are more than likely to accept.

I hope you guys don't mind me going off track from my usual cheery style of blogging to focus on this. What are your thoughts. Are we likely to see film bloggers writing more and more puff pieces for studio pictures? Is it okay for teenagers to be encouraged to advertise for film studios and for companies like SeeFilmFirst?

Not only are teenagers being marketed TO, companies like SeeFilmFirst are also asking kids to DO the marketing. This is a dangerous path, I fear.


  1. I don't know, it seems that this has been going on in the media since vertical integration became the cool thing to do, just now they are apperently upfront about it. I think that, as is the case with a lot of things, people know quality when they see it. People who read reviews read them because they are well written by a trusted source and so if the blog world is overtaken by a bunch of kids who don't know what they are talking about the medium will eventually die and only those of true worth will remain. Who knows, maybe that's what the movie blogging world needs?

  2. It's definitely not right... Free tickets are very enticing but the emails encouraging, or rather, forcing people to write good reviews regardless of whether they actually think the film is good or not just isn't right...

  3. Damn, that's tempting, especially at today's prices. But when it comes down to it, I'd rather pay for the movie and be free to say it's garbage

  4. I tend to agree with Mike. The quality of the tweens and kids writing is more apt to be taken less seriously than professional-style film bloggers. It probably won't last long as either the studios will grow tired of holding these little puff-a-thons or the kids will be kids and lose interest in being told what to do.
    I can understand your point of view on the topic. It's not good business to target kids for things. But essentially people are going to see movies regardless for entertainment. I really think it'll run its course and die out.

  5. Thanks for your feedback guys.

    Mike - "it seems like this has been going on for years" is a problematic answer. Just because something has been going on for a long time, or that people are used to it, doesn't mean it's right or good.

    Mike & Wild Celtic - You both seem dismissive of the moral implications of these companies manipulating young minds and teaching them to innocently use their opinions, ideas, and creativity to earn these companies lots of money. I think that is a BAD thing, and not something we should just disregard.

    Cynic: I agree, the temptation is the thing.

    Sofluid: Glad you're with me!

  6. "Not only are teenagers being marketed TO, companies like SeeFilmFirst are also asking kids to DO the marketing. This is a dangerous path, I fear."

    Companies getting kids to DO the marketing has been going on for a while already. The simple fact of having t-shirts with logos on em, or bags with shop names on em is just that.

    Fair enough, this is different because it is explicitly using the kids for marketing, ie paying them with free tickets. While I think it is a system that could work with adult "professional" (read: full time) bloggers, kids won't be bothered to write reviews for free tickets. They might do a couple but the novelty will wear off soon enough.

    As a final note, what isn't right with this system (when adult/'serious' bloggers are targeted) is the fact that the companies are sending emails as you describe. OK granted if a blogger keeps on writing negative reviews (and I mean 'unconstructive youtube-comments' kind of negativity) then they have the right to stop sending free tickets, but they should allow a blogger to be critical about the movie. It's the gamble they take for using cheap marketing. Either pay big $$$ to use professional marketers or pay cinema ticket peanuts to exploit bloggers.

  7. I would agree that getting kids to do a film's marketing for them is a little suspect and I would dare say a bit unethical. Kids are being swayed by the promise of free stuff and haven't had time to consider their own impact in marketing. I think we should leave the reviews to adults who are writing with a bit less agenda (although an agenda-free review is fairly difficult to find these days too.)

  8. Free ticket and if you write a review you get a new free ticket next time, that is fine.

    You can even demand a good review, and then I mean good writing, good contents, NOT claiming it was a good movie if the writer didn't feel like it was.

    No, what they do is not ethical.

  9. Kid, when I point out that it's been going on for years I am saying that it's too late to really bother even raising an eyebrow at this point. Where was this article when companies were buying the magazines that published the reviews? Where was this article when distributors were threatening to pull advertising if their movie caught some slander? Is it because now they are being more obvious because they are exploiting a public medium instead of a closed door members club or because it involves children? Either way it seems like the issue is of such ancient status that, to bring it up now is simply swimming up stream. We can all band together and cry out against it but if bad ideas/immoral practices/unethical dealings were resolved simply by sheding light on them Twilight would have tanked at the box office, Nike would not exist, Enron wouldn't have been one of the most profitable companies in America for a time and so on...I'm not trying to undermine your piece, I'm just saying, this is nothing new, it's not going to go away, so I'm not going to get worked up over it.

    The reality is that good film criticism and writing on movies will never die. It may go underground, may get undermined, whatever, but it will never go away because it will always appeal to those who seek it and can spot it. There's so many blogs out there that feature reviews comprised on nothing but poor writing, bad arguments and fanboy gibberish. It seems now that they may be able to get their movies for free and really, those are the people who would probably recommend those kinds of movies anyway. I'd like to believe that people like you, me, anyone else who has dedicated themselves to series criticism and insightful commentaries on the art of film would know better in the first place.

  10. I find this interesting as I am on SeeFilmFirst's email list and have been to see films they've shown, (only a couple of times and a while ago mind you) but I haven't been asked to review it or post a blog about it. I got the email about the Karate Kid preview but it doesn't say anything about reviews there either. Unless you're signed up to a 'bloggers' list, which I'm not.

    Haven't critics always had access to preview screenings? Or at least for quite some time now. That's one of the reasons you can't always trust what's written, if they're being sort of courted by the film companies in hopes of giving repeatedly good reviews. I do read reviews but if it's a film I want to see I will generally see it regardless, unless the entire reviewing world is saying it stinks. It's just the nature of the game. I'm not saying it's right, but it's canny marketing, I'll give them that. Though the 'rewards' for getting most people to see the film are somewhat shady, as is the fact that they're now targeting younger bloggers. But they know how friends talk to one another, so I can see why they've done it.

  11. Mike - your outlook is very depressing to me. "it's too late to really bother even raising an eyebrow at this point," I just don't identify with that at all. The power that people can have when they stand up for something is gigantic. It's a shame that you feel a sense of powerless with these types of things, and that is also part of the problem - but not standing up to things or at the very least NAMING THEM and IDENTIFYING them, we will get more powerless; this is how people end up poor, uneducated and in jobs they hate. Of course, we're just talking about one the unethical practices of one little film company, so I don't mean to jabber about society -- I guess that's just where we're different. I'm not going to step aside from an issue, or wrongdoing, or things I care about, just because I'm the little guy with no power.

    And hey, I'm not trying to have a big impact here, just bring awareness to it. Which brings me on to;

    @teabelly - Yes, critics have always had access to screenings. Which is fine, that's great! And yes, whenever a product is made people do try and warm people up and make them feel good in order to win favorable reviews... that is ONE THING, but what I am talking about here is the courting of fourteen year olds and not only pushing a product on them, but encouraging them to be the pushers in a way where the kids are unaware of what it is they're doing and how it is profiting a big corporation is where it becomes unethical and, when that 13 year old get's to be a twentysomething blogger - if we're not careful, they won't know any different.

    Having said all that - I understand where you are all coming from and in many ways agree. But I definitely think this article was worth writing and that people, if they view things similarly to me, will at least be able to find this blog when doing a google search.

    What do is wrong. Will it change? Of course not. Integrity gives way to making a ton of money. Am I going to kick up a big stink and try and change things? No. I just wanted to bring awareness to what's going on. Chances are, if anything, what I've written will lead to more people seeing The Karate Kid (which I enjoyed) and more people grabbing free tickets from the company. But if four or five people who read this agree with me, then I'm happy.

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  13. there are more and more companies which like to use the power of bloggers for their causes. It's not a bad thing - after all bloggers should get some kind of material value for their writing as well. I know a lot of food bloggers who get free kitchenware and products to review them, a lot of writers who get free books to review them at their blogs, so it's only natural that we film bloggers get free tickets. And if you get something for free, it's normal that you won't trash it.

    I myself got quite a few movie books in exchange for reviewing them in my blog, but I don't live in US so could never get free cinema tickets :)

    It's also true that after your blog reaches a certain number of visitors, marketing companies will come in greater number to you. After my blog reached first 50,000 visitors I had a lot of such letters from such companies, and after I scored 100,000 visitors, I get at least one e-mail per week with a request to promote something over in HOLLYWOOD SPY :) But I do it only if I see it fit and according to my own tastes and values.

  14. Hey Dezmond - thanks for your response. Some interesting points. The interesting thing is that I was going to write a review of Karate Kid, which I enjoyed. When someone gives you something, naturally you are respectful of that and it's a subtle way to exert calm pressure.. and that is fine I think.

    But it was the emails afterwards that turned me. What this is really about is how they are telling young people, under 16's, to win awards by going out and marketing the film. That's different, I think. And that's where myself and many commenters have been agreeing that what SeeFilmFirst have been doing is unethical.

  15. I guess I wasn't clear in addressing the different points of your post. I was seeing two different issues, one giving free tickets to bloggers in return for positive reviews (which has been going on in one way or another for a long time), and the other courting younger bloggers (which I'd say is a newer form of the marketing machine), which I do agree is shady as said. Although I am not sure what, if anything can be done about it.

  16. Thanks for this post on I think what you had to say was really important.

    I haven't a lot to say, other than echoing what you have brought up in this post and its comments.

    SeeFilmFirst have now changed to ShowFilmFirst. What's that all about?

    Another thing I noticed looking on their site, was a new VIP service in which you get texts an hour before the emails got out with ticket offers. At a charge of £1.50 per message. Ok that's cheaper than a cinema ticket but how many tickets are you likely to get through it? Which brings up another pet hate of mine, Text and win schemes. No age check, just text. My 11 year old son has a phone. Sounds to me like another money spinner.

    They also seem to moonlight under some other site names too. Tell Ten being one of them. I cant help but think you may have only just touched the tip of a slippery iceberg here kid.

    I didn't like their guide to blogging either. Its started of great, then ended talking about how people can become blogging film critics. Excuse me here, but doesn't a critic have to be critical?

    And as for can anything be done about it? I think you've gone some way in doing that with this post. Thanks :)