Are Movie Trailers Too Long? Theater Owners Think So

The National Association of Theater Owners wants to cut movie ads down to size

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When you go to the movies, does it feel like you’re spending nearly a half an hour watching trailers for movies other than the one you paid to see? The National Association of Theater Owners, the cineplex industry trade group, feels your pain.

According to an exclusive report published last night by The Hollywood Reporter, the association—which shares the abbreviation NATO—has decided to try to cap the length of movie trailers at 120 seconds, shorter than the current standard of two and a half minutes. The shorter previews would also be screened (in most cases) not more than four months prior to the movies’ release date, which would have to be included; that would mean no more “Coming Summer 2014.”

Because theater owners have more direct access to customers than studios do, they’re more aware of a growing volume of complaints over the amount of time moviegoers are compelled to watch trailers (often nearly 20 minutes, or up to eight trailers, says THR, not including non-movie advertisements) and how much plot gets given away during that time. They’ve even had to deal with complaints about how previews have nothing to do with the movies they’re advertising, as was the case with a 2011 lawsuit filed against a theater and studio over the difference between the meditative Ryan Gosling movie Drive and its action-movie-style trailer.

Although NATO has no power to force the studios to do anything they could, in theory, refuse to show previews that did not follow the guidelines.

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THR‘s sources—none of them willing to speak on the record—claim that the studios are unhappy to be asked to deviate from the current guidelines set by the Motion Picture Association of America, guidelines that come from the studios themselves and allow for not only the extra 30 seconds for each preview but also one longer spot per year. For one thing, the extra half-minute is valuable time to show off the movie—and, they argue, shorter trailers might result in the same 20-minute reel being filled with ten ads rather than eight.

Shorter running times wouldn’t be the only recent changes in trailer town. In April, the MPAA announced changes to the trailer approval bands—”the following preview has been approved…”—with a new font and more legible information about the rating and content of the movie being advertised. The changes, dubbed “Check the Box” after the “ratings box” information, were designed to encourage parents to be more aware of the movies their children see.

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