Nokia's exclusive 'Dark Knight' app: a hero or a zero?


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Summer movie season is in full swing. The Avengers is already the third highest-grossing film of all time, generating a staggering $560 million in the U.S. since opening since May 4. Men in Black 3 tops $114 million, and Snow White and the Huntsman opened last weekend with domestic returns of $56.3 million. Even the great Wes Anderson's latest Moonrise Kingdom is breaking indie box office records, raking in $509,000 during its first weekend despite premiering on just four screens in the New York City and Los Angeles markets.

If you've seen any of these films, there's a very good chance you purchased your ticket via mobile device. Mobile sales generated 28 percent of all transactions across the Fandango movie ticketing platform in May 2012, the firm reported earlier this week. Fandango enjoyed its best-ever May this year, with a 47 percent increase in year-over-year ticket sales as well as a 29 percent year-over-year surge in monthly visitors. Fandango credited its cross-platform growth to new exhibitor partnerships with AMC Theatres, Regency Theatres and other chains alongside new ticketing deals with Yahoo and AOL's Moviefone, all of which helped expand the reach of its mobile sales and paperless mobile ticket scanning services. 

Even as recently as a few years ago, it would have seemed unthinkable that more than a quarter of Fandango users would purchase tickets on their phone. But we haven't completely moved on from the past: Warner Bros. is promoting its forthcoming Batman sequel The Dark Night Rises with a free mobile app that's available solely on Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) Windows Phone-based Lumia smartphones--the kind of exclusive content partnership that seems like a throwback to a more narrow-minded era in the mobile industry's evolution.

The Dark Knight Rises app looks cool: Its stark, ominous visuals perfectly complement the approach established by director Christopher Nolan's previous Batman efforts, and it includes compelling features like a foursquare-based check-in game, a map-based theater finder and social media integration. But who's going to use it? Windows Phone devices make up less than 5 percent of all smartphones in the U.S. according to the latest comScore data, making Warner Bros.' decision to go exclusive with Nokia as baffling as any of the Riddler's signature puzzles. It's frustrating to see any app with potential limited to just a fraction of the subscriber base.

You could make the argument that Hollywood still doesn't fully understand the mobile opportunity--and chances are Disney Mobile Senior Vice President and General Manager Bart Decrem wouldn't argue against you. This week, Disney announced it will collaborate with Imangi Studios, the developer behind the hit Temple Run, to launch a new mobile game based on Brave, the forthcoming animated fantasy produced by Disney's Pixar unit. Speaking to TechCrunch, Decrem was unusually candid about Temple Run: Brave's origins, admitting he initially didn't plan to launch a mobile title based on Brave given his disappointment with past Disney tie-ins. He added that previous mobile games generated substantial download totals following their initial release but quickly dropped off: "What we've done there hasn't been big enough," Decrem said, crediting the Imangi team for suggesting the Temple Run/Brave mash-up as an alternative approach.

The opportunities to expand and enrich the moviegoer experience via mobile applications and games are virtually limitless, but Decrem's approach seems sound: Until Hollywood exhibits a complete command of those opportunities, it's best to leave the heavy lifting to the mobile professionals.--Jason