Movie Trailers Will Get Shorter, But Won’t Become Interactive Anytime Soon

Theater owners are cracking down on too-long trailers — and trying to keep you from looking at your phone

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The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), which is the trade organization for American cinema operators (and is very different from that other NATO you hear about more frequently), has just released a new set of voluntary guidelines intended to standardize in-theater marketing — things like movie trailers and printed materials — across North America. Their directives will affect movies scheduled to be released starting Oct. 1, 2014; the goal is to improve the “effectiveness and efficiency” of movie marketing.

So what’s about to change? The bullet-list item that’s made the most news so far is that theater owners want trailers capped at two minutes. Only two movies per year from each distributor would be granted exemptions to let them run as long as three minutes. In addition, all advertisements, including trailers, would only be seen in the 150-day period before release (about five months), with a similar two-movie exemption. The new restrictions don’t come as a complete surprise: It was last April that NATO decided to issue guidelines like these, and in May the Hollywood Reporter published a sneak peek, via anonymous sources, at these new guidelines; those early ideas almost exactly match the final report.

But one item that wasn’t in the sneak peek — and that has yet to make headlines — indicates that, while their length may be changing, trailers are otherwise destined to remain the same. Under the heading “Trailer Standards,” distributors are given the following instruction:

No direct response prompts (QR codes, text-to, sound recognition, etc.) other than URLS are to be placed in/on the trailer, as they encourage mobile phone use during the show.

In addition, distributors are instructed not to advertise third-party products (such as video games) in trailers for movies. So movie trailers will be just that — movie trailers, not interactive ads for all sorts of stuff — if distributors want them played by participating theaters. As mobile phones become more capable of interacting with other screens, it’s the “etc.” that might make the difference. QR codes in video advertising haven’t really taken off and sound-recognition apps that exist now don’t necessarily require the trailer to prompt viewers to do anything, but the idea that trailers might be able to communicate with potential fans via their phones is far from outlandish.

But — luckily for moviegoers sitting next to people with low cell-phone self-control — we may never find out how that could work within movie theaters, unless NATO decides to update their guidelines at some point. The movie trailer of the future is, apparently, already here.

(MOREDoes Anyone in the U.S. Still Go to Foreign Films? Yes. Indians!)