Kara Swisher

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AOL Turns Moviefone Over to BermanBraun for Reboot

After buying it in 1999 — at the height of the Web 1.0 bubble — for upwards of $500 million in stock, AOL has pretty much let Moviefone languish ever since.

As others — from a myriad of entertainment content sites to the Fandango movie ticketing and content site to premium video distributor Netflix — have boomed, the old-school movie and ticket information site has decidedly not.

No longer, it seems. The New York-based Internet portal said it has partnered with Hollywood’s BermanBraun to “reimagine” Moviefone.

That will include a new design and user experience, including new mobile apps and bulking up of its social and content features, by early 2014.

AOL said that BermanBraun will now essentially manage Moviefone’s content, product and creative development, although AOL will retain ownership of the brand and run advertising sales in collaboration with their partner.

It’s an interesting and unusual move, because this partnership assumes AOL can’t fix what’s ailing Moviefone with its own internal resources. The site and apps got its last redo in 2010, also under CEO Tim Armstrong.

(Using outside expertise to fix existing digital assets within big companies seems to be a trend — former AOL exec Tina Sharkey just took over at Sherpa Foundry, which is aimed at that effort.)

Both parties declined to say what BermanBraun will be getting out of the deal. My guess: Perhaps fees for the remake or some renumeration if it manages to up the value of the property significantly.

In addition, the pair said in a press release that Moviefone would also become a “utility for consumers to find and watch premium content on all devices.”

It’s not clear what that means — a new distribution play, perhaps? — but it’s a much needed upgrade for the service that was founded in 1989 as a way to find movie times via a telephone.

The time may be right. Now, everything old is new again, it seems, as the explosion of smartphones and other mobile devices allows the old Moviefone name to actually feel current.

AOL and BermanBraun have worked on several projects together, with the entertainment and digital production studio creating sites for men (Mandatory), pets (PawNation) and weather (Skye) for AOL.

In fact, the relationship goes back further than that — Lloyd Braun and AOL Brand Group CEO Susan Lyne once led Disney’s ABC television network together and developed hits such as “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“Moviefone has huge awareness, but the product needs to be overhauled for a mobile world,” said Lyne. “This is as rich a time as ever to see great long form entertainment … I think we will have a unique offering next year and then it’s up to all of us to make it your first choice for entertainment.”

BermanBraun also has other properties that could be used on Moviefone, such as its Wonderwall celebrity site. It is perhaps one of the more ideal partners for such an overhaul, given its experience both digitally and with its deep ties in Hollywood.

“We see the reimagination of Moviefone as a perfect vehicle to showcase how content and technology can be seamlessly and effectively married in our mobile world,” said Braun. “We believe that the consumer and media companies can all benefit by having premium content showcased and framed in new and exciting ways.”

But perhaps the best idea would be to just hire Kramer:

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