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The pros and cons of shorter movie trailers

Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man."
Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man."
Columbia Pictures

In late May, Pamela McClintock of The Hollywood Reporter reported that the National Association of Theater Owners is trying to pass a new rule that would substantially cut down the maximum runtime for movie trailers.

Per Motion Picture Association of America standards, the current upper limit for theatrical trailers is 2 minutes, 30 seconds, with studios granted one exception each year (usually reserved for summer tent poles, like the three-minute “Man of Steeltrailer). The theater owners association, however, is pushing to reduce that by a full 30 seconds to just two minutes.

That might not seem like a lot, but in terms of advertising real estate, where every second counts, the reduced trailer time could radically change the way movies are marketed.

How might the possible regulation affect the moviegoing experience for audiences? Here are some pros and cons of a shortened trailer length:

Pros

• Shorter trailers could drastically reduce the amount of time audiences have to wait for a movie to start. With seven or eight trailers and in-house advertisements often running before the feature presentation, it’s not unusual for a movie to start a full 20 minutes or more after its advertised showtime. By cutting down that wait, theater owners say going to the movies will be less of a chore for audiences.

• Reduced advertising time will require studios to be more selective in what they reveal from a movie. One of the big complaints theaters owners face is that trailers show too much. Just look at theatrical spots for movies like “Prometheus” or the upcoming “Ender’s Game” — or don’t, if you don’t want major plot points spoiled. For last summer’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Sony ended up revealing a staggering 18 percent of the entire movie, according to AdWeek.com. That’s 25 minutes of footage in various teasers, trailers and featurettes. By forcing marketing departments to be more economical in how they represent their products, theater owners hope to curb the trend toward spoiler-heavy previews.

Cons

• Shorter trailers could just mean more of them before each movie. Earlier this year, the National Association of Theater Owners sparked another controversy when it decided to start charging studios to play their trailers, according to the Los Angeles Times. Some question whether this new proposal is aimed at increasing revenue by upping the number of trailers that play before each screening.

• If not more movie trailers, it could also mean more in-house advertising. Instead of additional teasers and previews, exhibitors could choose to fill the vacant time with car insurance ads or whatever else they feel like.

• While reducing trailer times could be a good thing for some movies, for others, the effect could actually make them less marketable. Speaking with the Hollywood Reporter, one studio executive said, "My trailers are 2 1/2 minutes because that's what we need to send the right message.” Another anonymous insider said, “You can't have one rule that applies to all films, because each film is different in how it needs to be marketed.”

• The plan could easily backfire. With a lot of trailers already hitting the Internet before they ever play in theaters, the new regulation, if passed, might cause studios to just channel even more of their efforts into online marketing. Considering how much success recent movies like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” have had with the opposite tactic — showing off their first several minutes months in advance as IMAX sneak previews — pushing studios to create even more Internet-exclusive content seems like a potentially wrongheaded decision for the ailing movie theater industry.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.