Theaters paid to play more trailers
Question is whether the increase affects moviegoers' mood
Wondering why the coming attractions keep coming and coming these days?
Simple: For the first time, theater operators routinely are being paid to play movie trailers.
It's been almost an entire century since such preview clips actually trailed the playing of films. So the half dozen or more trailers played -- often after seven or eight consumer-product commercials -- now precede the feature presentation.
The butt-numbing situation presents a related question of whether such "pre-show" presentations poison moviegoers' mood. The conundrum keeps movie producers awake at night, for the same producers would have to nag studio marketing execs if their films failed to open well.
Which begs this further question: When will the industry as a whole decide enough is enough?
"I admit it bothers even me," a top film distribution exec acknowledged recently. "Then again, I know I want my own trailer to be played. So I don't know the answer, because everybody is going to feel the same way."
Trailer numbers have surged in the past decade from two to four per film to a current five to seven on screens operated by larger circuits, with an additional number of 30-second "teaser" trailers often tossed in as well.
The National Association of Theatre Owners doesn't dictate rules to its members on trailer numbers, but NATO president John Fithian said the trade group frowns on anything hurting the theatrical experience.
"We're seeing an increased pressure to play trailers, but there is a limit to what the patron can take in and retain," Fithian said. "Playing trailers does help both distribution and exhibition, so it's important to get it right."
Indeed, research shows trailers can be enormously helpful to pic campaigns, and the resulting trailer mania can take many forms.
For instance, a studio normally attaches one trailer for an upcoming release to film reels of pics playing in theaters, but Paramount has been asking exhibitors opening "Iron Man 2" on Friday to play three trailers for other Par pics. That's one more than the two-per-tentpole that's become common to seek in recent years, but Par on occasion has sought to place as many as four trailers with its biggest releases.
MPAA guidelines on trailers set a maximum length for trailers but don't address the number presented by individual studios or in aggregate. The studio group simply stipulates a maximum length of 2 1/2 minutes per trailer, with one NATO-approved "exception" allowed per year so studios can send out the occasional four-minute promo for event pics.
Meantime, it's become common for theater operators to seek concessions from distributors in film-rental negotiations in exchange for agreeing regularly to play a set number of trailers for a studio.
Certain studios have begun offering substantial compensation to big theater chains for placing one or more extra trailers per showtime. For years, international distribs have included trailer payments in marketing budgets, especially in territories where other media buys are difficult, but pay-for-play trailers is a relatively new phenom in the U.S.
In the case of so-called 100% deals, studios secure a guarantee that circuits will continuously run at least one trailer on every screen for an entire year. A distribution insider suggested annual payments of one form or another of up to $30 million.
The means of negotiating deals can vary:
-- Distribs display flexibility in film-rental negotiations in exchange for trailer placements.
-- Distribs draw upon in-theater marketing budgets to gain better trailer placement, folding the matter into negotiations about lobby and concessionary promotions.
-- Cash payments out of prints and advertising budgets.
Nothing in that last category has been proven since 2002. That's when Sony marketing and distribution topper Jeff Blake paid a reported $100,000 to get wider play for the trailer for the Rob Schneider comedy "The Animal."
Yet rumors of even heftier payments continue to circulate.
"Whether or not the exhibitor gets the money in a check or it comes off the film rentals, the studios can just include it in the prints and advertising costs," a well-placed industryite explained. "So $50 million in P&A becomes $52 million on a picture, and nobody's ever going to know."
Sony domestic distribution president Rory Bruer wouldn't discuss the subject of exhib compensation in any form but was unhesitant to endorse the spread of film trailers.
"The proliferation of trailers is a good thing, and I don't think they play too many at all," Bruer said. "Everybody I know thinks of the playing of trailers as entertainment, not marketing. But it is also the best way to get your message across to an audience."
Those still opposed to paying for trailer placements stress that such materials need to be tied to similarly targeted films. But they appear to be rowing against the marketing tide.
Some smaller exhibs set limits on the number of trailers played, but larger chains show little inclination for halting the surge anytime soon. (Pacific Arclight cinemas limit trailers to three per pic and nix ads.)
In fact, exhibs' desire to tap new revenue streams soon may spread to theater lobbies.
Studios are anxious to place movie posters and cardboard standees in theaters to promote upcoming releases, and theater operators always have been happy to display the materials. But in the current context, the matter soon may become yet another topic swept up into the parties' film and marketing negotiations.
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