In the near future, a call to 777-FILM won’t result in the familiar greeting of, “Hel-lo! And welcome to Moviefone!” The company announced that it will soon cancel its phone service, which has spread showtime information to callers from big cities for the last 25 years, and focus on its app and website, the Times reports. The move highlights how much America’s movie-watching habits have changed so quickly: Blockbuster announced late last year that it would close the last of its few remaining brick-and-mortar locations, and today’s big business story is about a deal between Netflix and Comcast about how the two will distribute data. (“That the technical, arcane details of how streaming videos arrive on a customer’s screen are the focus of corporate announcements and media coverage speaks to the outsize importance of Comcast and Netflix in how Americans now watch movies and television,” the Times reports.)
In hindsight, Moviefone was a clunky service, involving wading through touch-tone menus, but it was handy when you didn’t want to run out to the corner for a newspaper. Then computers and smart phones killed it. At its mid-90s peak, when it’s cultural cachet was so strong it was prominently featured in an episode of Seinfeld, the company received more than three million calls a week, the Times reports. That number is now believed to be in the thousands.
Though the business is on the decline, some still believe it’s viable. “It’s a missed opportunity and unfortunately characterizes the way AOL”—which bought the company in 1999 for $388 million—”has mismanaged the Moviefone business for quite a while,” the filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, who was one of the company’s cofounders, told the Times. “The fact that a lot of people still call—hundreds of thousands a month, from what I have been told—shows that it isn’t some ancient idea.”
The iconic voice of Mr. Moviefone was Russ Leatherman left the company late last year. “It’s been a total blast,” he told the Times, “but if I’ve heard my last ‘Do the voice,’ that’s ok too.”
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