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Theater Owners & Film Studios Are Arguing Over the Length of Trailers and Amount of Marketing

Have you ever thought film trailers are too long?  Or give away too much of the plot?  Or come out way too far ahead of the actual film they are promoting?  Or sometimes fail to even give a hint as to when the promoted film might be coming out?  Well, somebody is trying to fix that, and it’s not the people making the movies – it’s the people showing them.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the National Association of Theater Owners (don’t pretend you knew that was a thing that existed) is proposing new guidelines which would restrict the length, content, and release window for all film trailers.  The specifics guidelines being proposed are these:

  • The current standard trailer length of 2 minutes, 30 seconds (which is based upon a voluntary MPAA regulation) would be cut to a new standard of 2 minutes.  Currently, film studios are granted one exception per year which allows them to use a trailer which runs longer than the suggested length.  This provision would remain.
  • Marketing of a film at theaters, including displayed posters and film trailers, could not begin until 4 months prior to the film’s release date.  There would be occasional exceptions.
  • A film’s release date would be required on all marketing materials, trailer or otherwise.

The thrust of the argument is that the theaters currently have little control over the marketing of films.  If a trailer is too long or gives away too much of the plot or fails to indicate a release date, those are complaints which are directed on site at theater owners and employees who bear no direct responsibility for the perceived errors in the marketing.  As such, these proposed guidelines have been informed by mounting customer complaints and could provide theater owners a bit more structure and control over how films are marketed in their theaters.

That’s all fine and good, but it’s not really the length of individual trailers but the total number of trailers and the cumulative length that harms the film-going experience for many viewers.  When you also factor in the non-trailer advertisements which are becoming increasingly common the resulting waiting period prior to the start of a film can be especially brutal.  In such situations, we are a captive audience being cruelly reminded of the otherwise long forgotten experience of watching something we can’t simply fast-forward through as we would on a DVR.  This is the part where NATO’s argument becomes very, very dubious.  If the trailers are shorter then surely that means the waiting period for audiences will be less brutal, right?

Wrong.  What many film distributors are arguing, and I believe rather accurately, is that if presented with shorter trailers most theater owners would simply play more trailers or local advertisements thus improving the situation in no real way.  These proposed guidelines limit the actions of the film studios but impose nothing upon the actual theater owners who could easily offset the intended benefit of the guidelines by squeezing in more trailers or commercials and thus earn more advertising revenue.  Of course, there are those for whom the trailers are often the best part of the film-going experience, and in this scenario there would possibly be more trailers to enjoy.

TH9QS
Deadline.com reports that most major film studios do pay for film trailer placement, but some do not, such as Disney.

Not surprisingly, according to Deadline the film studios and distributors have already pushed back and hard, and now NATO is heading back to re-think the proposed guidelines.  The studios are reportedly arguing that 2 minutes is simply too short a trailer length for most films, and the four month release window would be especially problematic if there is no ideal film to which the trailer can be attached to help launch it during the marketing stage.

So, like the extra regular season week in the NFL or adoption of the DH in the National League in baseball this may be fated to be a proposed rule change shouted down by industry opposition. However, if NATO do make it past the proposal stage there is another caveat – anything NATO passes in the area of regulating film marketing is voluntary.  Studios could keep right on doing what they darn well please and NATO couldn’t stop them. Then again, the studios probably don’t want to piss off the people upon whom they are dependent to show their movies.  It’s not like they can just buy the theaters and force their will upon them. The last time they did that kind of thing they got in a lot of trouble.  Oh, wait.  It turns out they’ve actually been able to do that again if they want since the 1980s.

It’s not entirely clear if shorter trailers would really mean less rampant spoilage of plot.  However, it is interesting that we have become so accustomed to over-revealing trailers that the two earliest blockbusters in the summer box office (Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness) this year played upon expectations by heavily promoting one villain and then giving us another we knew nothing about.

What do you think?  Did you snicker everytime I said NATO because you thought I meant “North Atlantic Treaty Organization?”  Let me know in the comments.

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