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AOL Launches Web Film Festival

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NEW YORK AOL said it would begin a short-film festival that showcases one- to 15-minute programs from amateurs and professionals on Moviefone.com, the AOL-owned cinema information and ticketing site.

The Moviefone Short Film Festival will run until October, posting a new program each day from those sent to AOL. Users will be able to rate and comment on the entries, and their votes will be used to reduce the submissions to a shortlist. A panel of judges will pick a winner, who will receive $5,000 and a trip to Los Angeles to meet with Warner Bros. production and development executives.

AOL is launching the festival next week with 15 films, including The Office Party starring Jon Stewart.

"With more and more consumers getting broadband, more and more people are demanding online video content," said Steven Yee, vice president and general manager of Moviefone.com.

The film festival, which AOL plans to run annually, is part of the company's twin effort to open its content to non-subscribers while also emphasizing broadband video. Next month, AOL officially launches its new AOL.com portal, which is built around online video, an area of growing interest for Internet users and advertisers.

Ford's Lincoln Mercury has signed on as a "presenting sponsor," hoping to reach 25-39 year olds to promote the 2006 Mercury Milan midsize sedan. The deal gives Lincoln Mercury exclusive access to a 15-second pre-roll ad that will run before the films beginning in the fall. Mercury has also purchased most of the ad space in the festival section. Online ads for the film festival, with Mercury Milan branding, will run across AOL's network.

Lincoln Mercury is not new to online video. Last year, it ran a highly acclaimed online film series, Meet the Lucky Ones. A Lincoln Mercury representative said that push, in addition to garnering positive brand buzz for the Mercury Mariner, resulted in a fivefold return on ad spend.