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The Angry Birds juggernaut continues. The mobile game has been downloaded tens of millions of times in the past year and it has broken into the collective consciousness of the world as a cultural phenomenon. Who doesn’t know the little cartoon birds with the angry eyebrows?

That success of the mobile game has enabled developer Rovio to parlay that success into the game’s first movie tie-in. Today, the company is announcing that it will do a special version of Angry Birds for the release of the animated movie Rio, dubbed Angry Birds Rio, as part of a deal with movie studio Twentieth Century Fox. That means that Angry Birds will benefit from the tens of millions of dollars of marketing money being spent on the movie’s promotion.

The collaboration is a unique one in that it has been executed quickly and it shows that the smartphone and tablet platforms are becoming vehicles for big marketing campaigns.

Peter Vesterbacka, known as Mighty Eagle at Rovio in Helsinki, said that the tie-in with the film Rio, a major release made by the creators of Ice Age, is a perfect fit for the Angry Birds franchise.

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“We are like birds of a feather,” said Vesterbacka, who appeared on my panel this week at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich. “This gets us massive global visibility, as if we had made our own movie.”

Angry Birds launched in December, 2009, on Apple’s App Store and it has been downloaded more than 50 million times on both the App Store and the Android platform as well. (The number is well above that 50 million figure now) The game has had far more staying power in the top ranks of the App Store than any other title. Vesterbacka noted that Angry Birds is more popular in Google searches than Mickey Mouse.

That was all done by word of mouth, with no money spent on advertising. Now Vestersbacka says that marketing of the Rio movie will essentially give Angry Birds the equivalent of a major movie tie-in, even though the Angry Birds characters are not part of the movie itself. Rovio has been working on the Rio game for months.

This all fits in with the brand expansion of Angry Birds. Rovio’s strategy is to take the hit game — where you slingshot Angry Bird characters at the fortresses of green pigs — and run with it.

“We think of how Mario has been around as a game character for more than 25 years and feel like we are just getting started,” Vesterbacka said.

The deal with Twentieth Century Fox means that the Angry Birds game will be promoted along with the movie in TV commercials and other marketing. And the bird character Rio will also appear in the new version of the Angry Birds game. The movie releases on April 15.

The Angry Birds Rio game will be released around the world in March. In the game, the original Angry Birds are kidnapped and taken to the magical city of Rio, where they escape their captors and set out to save their friends, Blu and Jewel, two rare macaws who are the stars of the Rio film. There will be hours of game play, physics-based demolition challenges, and twists related to the film. It will have 45 dedicated levels, or more than a usual update to the Angry Birds game. It will be available on smartphones and tablets.

Rio itself is a comedy about a rare bird’s search for another of his kind. They’re beset by would-be animal smugglers and have to escape back to their home. Vesterbacka said that his company is doing other deals as well. It has created Angry Birds plush toys and clothing. A board game is coming out in May.

And Rovio is still talking about doing television shows and movies based on Angry Birds. But he said it takes four years to make a movie. With the Rio deal, Rovio gets the benefit of movie promotion without having to wait a long time.

“Not a lot of people have seen this coming,” Vesterbacka said. “We are expanding and building out the franchise.”

Check out our video with Vesterbacka below. Watch his reaction when I ask about his angry eyebrows.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tn-aoy0ZKBQ&w=640&h=390]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7gIpfrQdAI&fs=1&hl=en_US]

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