Movie theater owners call for shorter trailers

Movie goers get ready for a movie in a Santa Monica theater.
(Barbara Davidson / The Los Angeles Times)

Moviegoers fed up with long trailers may get some relief at the multiplex.

The trade group representing major theater chains announced that it was clamping down on the duration of movie trailers — and how far in advance they are shown before a film’s release.

As part of new guidelines released Monday, the National Assn. of Theatre Owners called for limiting the length of movie trailers to two minutes. That is down from 21/2 minutes, which for several years has been the standard recommended by the Motion Picture Assn. of America.


Seeking to “maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the industry’s marketing efforts,” the theater owners group also called for restricting marketing time for trailers to 150 days prior to the release date of the film, and 120 days for all other in-theater marketing materials.

Distributors would be allowed two exemptions a year for trailer length and marketing lead time.

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“These guidelines will evolve in response to technological innovations, marketing and advertising trends, competition in the marketplace, and consumer demands,” the theater owners group said in a statement. “The guidelines are completely voluntary and will be implemented through individual exhibition company policies, which may vary.”

Trailer length has been a source of annoyance among consumers, as well as a bone of contention between theater owners and studios, who often haggle over how to divvy up box-office revenue.

Although studios and theater owners view trailers as a key way to market upcoming movies, exhibitors have grown increasingly concerned that long promotional spots consume valuable advertising space, reveal too many plot lines and can be ineffective if they are screened too many months ahead of the movie’s release date.

The sides also have clashed over the growing practice of charging for trailers.

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Traditionally, theater owners were content to run the advertisements for upcoming movies on the understanding that they drove box-office receipts and concession-stand sales. Studios paid to make the trailers and cinemas screened them without charge.

But in a sign of the trailers’ rising value, some large theater chains are charging studios to run their trailers. Some studios pay as much as $100,000 to play a trailer for one film. Last year, the nation’s largest cinema chain, Regal Entertainment, cut the number of free trailers that studios can run with their own movies from two to one.

The practice is a sore point with distributors, which have complained that they’re being asked to pay to get their trailers played or risk getting shut out.

The theater owners group’s executive board voted last April to create new industrywide guidelines for trailer length and placement as well marketing lead-in time.

Several studios balked at the initial recommendations, which included a 90-day window for releasing trailers and did not allow for exemptions.

After discussions with executives of the seven largest distributors, the theater owners group agreed to revise the guidelines.

The guidelines will go into effect for any film released domestically on or after Oct. 1.