Amazon at Center of Amex-Sponsored Film Contest

Amazon.com is adding a feather to its media cap. The online retailer, along with American Express and the Tribeca Film Festival, is kicking off an online contest to identify the best short films.

The e-commerce site will serve as the hub of the contest activity, with its registered users acting as judges. Winning films will be published to its homepage.

The deal extends the longstanding relationship between American Express and the Tribeca Film Festival, which includes a deal with festival founder and actor Robert De Niro. It also represents the latest push online for the financial services player, which began its online marketing efforts in earnest with a splashy Seinfeld/Superman campaign.

From now until April 13, Amazon will accept submissions of films shorter than seven minutes, promoting the contest through a link on its home page. Additionally, the festival will help promote the competition among film students and the larger filmmaking community, according to Amazon spokesperson Chris Bruzzo.

Site visitors will get to view and rate submitted films in a “Tribeca Screening Room” on the site. A panel of celebrity jurors from the film festival will also weigh in. Their comments will be published on the site.

The top five rated shorts will be screened at New York’s Tribeca Cinemas and will run on Amazon’s homepage over the course of five weeks. Amazon users will again vote on these five to select a winner, who will receive a $50,000 grant from American Express.

Financial terms of the relationship weren’t disclosed. For Amazon, a retailer with a very short history in the media business, association with American Express and the film festival give it additional credibility as a media power.

To the festival, Amazon can offer an audience in the millions and a “great initiative to recognize and reward talented short film makers,” according to a statement from Robert De Niro.

A landing page at amazon.com/tribeca offers details of the contest and gives prominent placement to “founding partner” American Express. The company is mentioned in bold copy at the top of the page, and a large square logo shows up in a banner placement to the right.

This is the second short film initiative from Amazon in four months, and the latest attempt by the company to expand beyond direct selling into publishing and content aggregation.

Amazon Theater, launched late in 2004, presented several short films by new directors. Amazon products appeared within the films, and the credits at the end displayed clickable list of those products. The company could have used this technology, sometimes known as hot-spotting, to make the products themselves clickable, but chose not to do so.

“We considered making the products within the films clickable, but Amazon felt its primary objective was to entertain,” said Bruzzo. However, he added that may change in the future. “We think maybe the next thing to test is to allow customers to turn that on and off.”

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