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Columbia, Grouper Team for 'Spider-Man'

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NEW YORK Columbia Pictures has tapped user-generated video site Grouper Networks to spearhead a contest that will name two winners to report Spider-Man 3 news and help drive ticket sales for the movie's May 4 release.

Called "The Face of the Fan," the competition is Columbia's third joint effort with Sony Pictures Entertainment brethren Grouper, a portal that lets users produce and share videos. Sony acquired Grouper in August.

The winners will serve as correspondents, creating videos with Spider-Man updates as well as special promos. Grouper will host and serve the content, which will be disseminated across the Internet.

The contest is part of a "very aggressive" interactive campaign to tout the franchise, according to Dwight Caines, evp, worldwide digital marketing strategy, Columbia TriStar.

Harnessing Peter Parker's following lets the studio "involve an active Web community that is self-motivated to talk about the Spider-man movies," he said. That the amateur marketers "invite their network of friends and family into the discussion about the film ends up being relatively low cost and low tech, but with a high impact," noted Caines.

For Grouper president and co-founder Josh Felser, that impact bespeaks "the power of engagement" of user-generated video.

But not all user-generated content has the potential to be effective, he cautioned.

"You have to have the right incentive for the right group," said Felser, adding that Grouper has cultivated a community of creative video makers among its 10 million-strong unique visitors per month. "If you don't target the right audience, you might get a lot of things that aren't interesting," he said.

Aesthetic merit aside, the contest banks on brand stewards to set an upbeat tone of audience interaction.

Whether the strategy can head off any negative feedback is unclear. "I'm not sure it minimizes any risk," said Dan Buczaczer, svp, Publicis Groupe's Denuo. "Someone will surely carp about the choice of director or script, but the reason you do this is to get your information out there and to give them an inside report using their take."

"As long as these are genuinely fans and not shills that Sony has hired, and as long as they're allowed to say whatever they genuinely want to say, then it can be very powerful because (Columbia) is empowering the Spider-Man fan base by giving it the news they want through a voice that they hopefully respect," Buczaczer continued.

The Face of the Fan contestants must be registered members of the Spider-Man network on Grouper, where they can record, edit and submit their entries via online tools. Membership currently exceeds 250,000; it's strictly domestic and closed to fans under 18 years of age.