Studios vs. cinemas: Theatre owners want shorter, less-spoiler-filled movie trailers

Wide Screen

Do you remember the last time you went to the cinema and your movie started at the precise time listed on your ticket?

It almost never happens that way anymore. Modern moviegoers sometimes have to sit through more than 20 minutes worth of advertisements and coming attractions before their feature presentation begins. And apparently the U.S.-based National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) is getting tired of hearing audiences complain about those commercials and lengthy, spoiler-filled trailers causing delays... Despite the fact that they're the ones playing said trailers and ads.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, NATO recently proposed some new marketing guidelines that would limit movie trailers to just two minutes in length. The previous time limit for trailers was two minutes and 30 seconds. Sources told THR that the new rules are designed to give theatre owners control over how and when upcoming films are advertised in their cinemas, and in the process improve the movie night experience for their patrons. A happy customer is a returning customer, after all.

The studios, on the other hand, are rightfully perturbed at the prospect of having their marketing material slashed. The THR article cites sources that say the major Hollywood movie distributors have not reacted well to the proposed new rules. Apparently that extra 30 seconds of trailer is integral to selling the next billion-dollar Hollywood blockbuster. But it's still a little unclear how a shorter trailer would result in fewer plot spoilers, since most studios are able to effectively pack a 15-second TV spot with all the information -- and more -- that a prospective viewer needs to know about a movie.

Of course, what these new movie trailer guidelines hilariously fail to address is the other -- and arguably more insidious -- moviegoer pet peeve: the ever-growing presence of non-film related advertising that usually precedes the trailers. Strangely, NATO is not trying to enforce similar content and length rules for flashy phone commercials or car ads. Is it possible that these non-entertainment industry advertisers are paying more for that pre-movie ad time? Cutting out 30-second blocks out of five or six trailers certainly would give those theatre owners more time to show ads.

Watching the trailers before a movie has long been a movie house tradition. Although it most definitely is advertising, at the end of the day it’s also a familiar and welcome element the movie-going experience.

Commercials? Not so much. They're a relatively new element of going to the movies. You can see an ad for deodorant or soft drinks anywhere, but seeing a movie trailer on the big screen is a special experience. Too much of anything is sure to annoy people -- that's as true of trailers as much as it is of regular advertising. But if theatre owners are really so eager to satisfy moviegoers, they might consider shortening the length of those pre-show ads instead. Leave the trailers alone.