Theater Owners Enact New Guidelines Calling for Shorter Movie Trailers

UPDATED: Under the new scheme, trailers can only be shown for a movie within five months of its release.

In a move sure to ignite plenty of debate in Hollywood, the National Association of Theater Owners has released voluntary guidelines calling for movie trailers to be no longer than two minutes -- 30 seconds shorter than is the norm.

The guidelines also specify that a trailer cannot be shown for a movie more than five months before its release. Nor can marketing materials be displayed inside of a theater for a film more than four months away from release.

Distributors will be given two exemptions a year on both trailer length and marketing lead time.

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The guidelines apply to titles opening on or after Oct. 1.

NATO's executive board came up with the new scheme 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.

NATO has spent months working on the guidelines, including speaking with each of the studios. The trade organization said the proposals were significantly altered as a result of those discussions.

Hollywood studios, which rely heavily on trailers to woo moviegoers, have generally refuted the notion that 2.5 minutes is too long. 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.

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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.

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.

The guidelines will be implemented by individual theater circuits, although it's not clear whether all exhibitors will abide by the suggested rules.