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Theater Owners Seek New Rules Shortening Movie Trailers (Exclusive)

Man of Steel Cavill Escorted by Officers - H 2013
Warner Bros. Pictures
"Man of Steel"

Studios are none too happy about the proposed guidelines, which are designed to give exhibitors more of a direct say in how movies are advertised in their cinemas.

In a controversial move, the National Association of Theater Owners is pushing for new marketing rules that include limiting the length of a movie trailer to two minutes -- 30 seconds shorter than is the norm.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that NATO's executive board came up with the proposed new guidelines in an effort to give exhibitors more control over how Hollywood movies are marketed inside of their cinemas. Theater owners, who feel the brunt of complaints from the public, believe trailers are often too long and can give away too much of the plot.

It's not uncommon for many circuits to play seven or eight trailers before a film. That translates to 17.5 minutes to 20 minutes, on top of in-house advertising. Exhibitors believe the new rule could boost ticket sales by making the theatergoing experience more attractive.

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Hollywood studios -- which rely heavily on trailers to woo moviegoers -- refute the notion that 2.5 minutes is too long. Sources say they have reacted none too well when briefed on NATO's plan in recent days. NATO's executive board wanted to get the reaction of studios before taking further action.

Together, television advertising and in-theater trailers are considered the most potent weapons in marketing a movie, even as the Internet made trailers ubiquitous. "My trailers are 2.5 minutes because that's what we need to send the right message. This could be a paradigm shift. Thirty seconds is a long time," says one studio executive who asked not to be named.

NATO declined to comment.

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Studios currently abide by voluntary marketing guidelines set forth by the MPAA restricting a trailer to 2.5 minutes. Each company is granted one exception a year (as an example, one theatrical trailer for Man of Steel runs three minutes).

Other NATO marketing rules being considered: Movies couldn't be marketed until four months before their release, including trailer play, although there would be exceptions (studios often tease their big tentpoles months in advance). Also, a film's release date would be required on all marketing materials.

Although the guidelines would be voluntary, studios fear that an exhibitor could cite the new policy in refusing to play a trailer that is longer than two minutes. They also worry that some theater owners will respond to the shorter time by simply running more trailers, many of which studios pay exhibitors to play.

"You can't have one rule that applies to all films, because each film is different in how it needs to be marketed," says another veteran film distributor.