June 14--As audiences settle into their seats, popcorn and candy in hand, the theater lights go dark in that welcoming reminder of escape intrinsic to the movies. But first, the previews -- four, five, maybe eight trailers for upcoming films. And at 2 minutes, 30 seconds per trailer, on top of in-house advertising, time spent in the theater before a movie starts can reach 20 minutes or more.
In a recent move that could wrest partial marketing control from the Hollywood studios, the National Association of Theatre Owners has recommended new guidelines to film studios that would cap trailers at 2 minutes and limit showing movie trailers more than 120 days before a film's opening date, as first reported by Pamela McClintock in The Hollywood Reporter. Despite repeated requests, both the National Association of Theatre Owners and the Motion Picture Association of America declined to comment for this article.
Under the current voluntary guidelines for movie advertisement, laid out by the MPAA, studios are permitted one trailer per year that exceeds the 2-minute, 30-second cap, such as Warner Bros.' recent trailer for "Man of Steel," opening this week, which runs just over 3 minutes.
The theater owners association, a trade organization representing 30,000 screens in 50 states, claims this controversy stems from its response to disgruntled moviegoers who pay for a film yet are then subjected to a barrage of pre-show advertisements and an increasing number of trailers.
But Richard Stern, owner of the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill, which belongs to the association, believes the problem could be solved in a simpler fashion.
"If [theaters] are getting push-back from their customers they could just play fewer trailers, like we do at the Manor," he said.
PG graphic: Start the movie already
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Yet he said this is unlikely because theaters make money from each trailer shown. Large theater chains are paid premiums by studios to place trailers in specific spots before a film, he said. The Manor, specializing in independent films, has no such deals with film companies. It plays no more than three trailers and has no commercial advertising.
"It's a source of revenue for [theaters]," he said. "That's why they play so many trailers."
In an interview, Ms. McClintock agreed, noting that the amount of time audiences sit in a theater might not decrease. Rather, there could be a higher number of shorter trailers, "which means more revenue because studios pay them for a certain amount of the trailers," she said.
While theaters have no legal authority over how studios market their films, "no one wants to be in a position where the theater says, 'I'm not playing your trailer if it's longer than 2 minutes,' " Ms. McClintock added.
For studios, trailers are viewed as the most important method of advertising films. According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, studios spend on average $10 million for the basic marketing of a film and an additional $30 million on "media buy," which includes television and film trailers. If a film succeeds in its opening week, a major portion of this success is attributed to the trailer, according to the study.
Although the global box office has reached historic highs in recent years, most films don't make money while in theaters, meaning studios view it as increasingly important to market their products effectively in movie theaters, with an audience already excited to watch a blockbuster, the paper states.
"Studios have more to lose from their perspective if they have to start making trailers shorter," Ms. McClintock said. "They think they need 21/2 minutes to tease the movie or advertise the movie correctly."
David Huffman is director of marketing for JRF Management, which operates six theaters in northeast Ohio and the SouthSide Works Cinema in Pittsburgh. Like many theaters around the country, JRF Management has a contract with Screenvision, one of the largest cinema advertising companies in the United States. About 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage plays as audiences file in to the theater. No more than three minutes of full-length commercials play right before the trailers start. Restrictions are placed on the length of advertisements in the contract with Screenvision, Mr. Huffman said, adding that the goal is to not irritate audiences with excessive commercials.
A shorter trailer time limit would allow his theaters to show more trailers to audiences. As opposed to the standard five, his theaters could show six trailers, he said.
"It's a way of getting one more film in front of the eyes of an audience that's more likely to see that film," he said.
Some people even enjoy trailers. Several Pittsburghers interviewed cited them as a favorite part of the movies, relishing each opportunity to see the coming attractions.
Then again, if viewers want to avoid trailers and advertisements altogether, nobody is forced to watch them.
As Matthew Haynes, 37, of North Oakland puts it, "If I don't feel like sitting through the trailers, I'll probably walk into the theater 15 minutes after the start time."
on the web
See the "Man of Steel" movie trailer at post-gazette.com.
Jacob Axelrad: email@example.com or 412-263-1634. On Twitter: @jakeaxelrad.
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