Coming Soon To Theaters Everywhere: Shorter Trailers

The National Association of Theatre Owners issued new guidelines to movie marketers yesterday that will shorten the length of the average trailer to two minutes — “chopping 30 seconds from the current norm,” reportsVariety’s Dave McNary — and restrict their screening to 150 days before the release of the film (120 days for other materials such as posters).’s Gael Fashingbauer Cooper takes the consumer’s POV in asking in her lede: “Ever sat through a lengthy movie trailer and felt you now had no need to see the movie it advertises? Or watched a trailer and felt eager to see the promised film, only to learn it won't be out for another year? You’re not the only one to notice.”



Indeed, NATO’s new guidelines are nobly in the pursuit of “driving movie ticket sales and creating a better moviegoing experience,” of course, as well as “maximiz[ing] the effectiveness and efficiency of the industry’s marketing efforts,” as Richard Verrier reports in the Los Angeles Times.

“Cinema owners have long complained about the length of movie trailers,” Verrier writes, linking to a piece he and Ben Fritz wrote last February capturing some of their grumbling. “Now they're clamping down.”

Well, they are forcefully nudging, at least. The guidelines, which go into effect for movies released in the U.S. as of Oct. 1, 2014, are deemed voluntary. And each major distributor automatically gets two exceptions on both the length limit and lead time per year.

“Industry analysts seem to agree the new two-minute trailer length limit is intended to encourage studios to stop making trailers mini Wikipedia entries for the entire plot of films,” writes’s Michael Doran.

But the “Hollywood studios, which rely heavily on trailers to woo moviegoers, have generally refuted the notion that 2.5 minutes is too long,” Pamela McClintock points out in The Hollywood Reporter. “Together, television advertising and in-theater trailers are considered the most potent weapons in marketing a movie, even as the Internet has made trailers ubiquitous.”

And they can be mini insights into the marketing zeitgeist.

Writing in The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance puts forth an argument that “the narrative structure of the film trailer, as a format, seems to evolve more rapidly than the narrative structure of film. Why is that? Ultimately, it’s because a trailer is built around the advertising ideas and dominant media of its time. In other words, a trailer is as much a product of its media environment as it is reflective of the film it’s selling.”

There is a reason, in other words, why you wouldn’t see a tagline such as “‘Jaws’: See it before you go swimming” nowadays. For better or for worse.

McClintock observes that some theaters play as many as eight trailers before the main attraction, adding up to 20 minutes to the popcorn-munching and soda-slurping experience. Are they likely to give up all that quality time for hitting the food-concession line? Skeptics say they’ll just fill it with advertising for other products.

“The movie studios have a more cynical view, with many suspecting the guidelines are a way to set aside more time for paid ads that run before the trailers," Ben Fritz writes in the Wall Street Journal. “Tighter restrictions could also push studios to pay for exact trailer placement, an increasingly common practice.”

“These guidelines will evolve in response to technological innovations, marketing and advertising trends, competition in the marketplace, and consumer demands,” the theater owners association said. 

Well, apparently not all technological innovations and marketing trends such as those newfangled smartphones with those QR thingeys and stuff like that. Time’s Lily Rothman points out that the Hollywood Reporter got a hold of a draft of the proposals in May and writes that they are virtually unchanged. 

“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,” Rothman writes. “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.”

If you’re looking for a good-morning chuckle, check out the satirical trailer for the movie “Les Miserables” in a blog post by the Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald aptly titled, “In a world where movie trailers are too long….” The video by Screen Junkies, which dedicates itself to “pop culture parody,” has one unredeeming quality. At nearly four minutes, it’s too long.

Next story loading loading..