The Hollywood Reporter has put up some interesting news about the trailer presentations before movies at the cinema. The National Association of Theater Owners are trying to get a time cut of 30 seconds, dropping most trailers down to roughly 2 minutes. This proposal is meant to give exhibitors more control over the marketing of movies in their cinemas and to cut down on complaints from patrons who may think trailers are too long. It is also hoped that this move to shorter trailers could make the cinema a more attractive place to visit. Other plans include limiting movie promotion to just four months before the film’s release and all films must include their release date on promotional materials.
To help to see why this would be an issue we need to look at how the system works. How Stuff Works has an excellent article on how movie distribution works but here is the abridged version. Theatres lease films in two ways bidding and percentage. Now bidding is not used much anymore but essentially the theater pays a set fee to get the rights to play the film. This obviously has its pros and cons because if a film makes more at the box office than the cinema bid on it they make a profit. However if it gets little foot fall and does not make the amount they paid to show it then they are out-of-pocket. The second way is percentage. This is slightly more complicated but what happens is the theater and the distributor figure out the house allowance which will cover basic weekly expenses and then the percentage for the net box office and the percentage split for the gross box office is set. The distributor gets most of the money because they get the agreed open net box office or gross box office, whichever is higher. Look at this example from How Stuff Works to see how this works.
Consider this example. Theater A is negotiating with Distributor B over a new movie. The theater has figured that expenses are about $4,500 per week. The net percentage to go to the distributor is set at 95 percent for the first two weeks, 90 percent for week three and 85 percent for the final week. The gross percentage to go to the distributor is set at 70 percent for the first two weeks, 60 percent for week three and 50 percent for the final week.
You can see that during weeks one, two and three, the gross percentage is higher. The net percentage is higher for week four. So the distributor would take gross percentage on one through three then net for week four. The theater breaks even the first week, loses money the second and makes a profit on weeks three and four.
Here is a helpfull diagram from the same website about how the money is distributed.
This scheme has been waiting for studio’s input before going further, and obviously they are none too happy about it. Aside from the fact that their films will not be promoted as well (meaning the net money coming in could be lower, cutting the amount they could make) and less can be put in the trailers, there is also the chance that a trailer over this size would not be allowed to be played at the cinema. Exhibitors could also just put more of the shorter trailers on, getting more money from the studios that pay for this privilege. This is all in the planning stage at the moment and will be voluntary, but it would still cause a major headache for big budget studios if it goes ahead because upcoming films like the Man of Steel (which had a trailer that lasted for 3 minutes) would need a serious restructure. It would give the exhibitors slightly more power however in what they choose to show and they could in theory handpick trailers they want or come to a financial agreement to show longer trailers.
Ignoring the studios for a minute, we need to think about whether this is actually a good thing for the patrons of the cinemas. Well the cutting down of trailers will mean the film will come on quicker. It can be up to 20 minutes before a feature film comes on due to the amount of trailers on show. Movie trailers have had a tendency to be very spoiler like, giving away far too much of the plot. The studios would have to think outside the box a bit to make sure their films had an impact in the short time they have available which is obviously a good thing, people can work better when put in a corner.
Trailers before movies have been around forever and have become an integral part of the cinematic experience. When VHS became popular they even copied this style, having trailers in front of all of their features. Of course you could always fast forward past these trailers, an option not available at the present time to cinema patrons. Still cinema users know there is going to be 20 minutes of trailers and most utilize it to use the rest room if they need, or return to the concessions stand. Reducing cinema trailers is taking something special away from the cinema experience. But I am a guy who got annoyed because they removed the Pearl and Dean tune from the start of UK movies so who knows if I speak for the public as a whole.
What would help are some original trailers on each cinema release. If you go to the theater a lot you end up seeing the same trailers on each movie. Making sure each film had a different set of trailers would help prevent the boredom from setting in. I find it interesting that there is no mention of adverts here which are the most annoying thing about the cinema experience. The same old car, drink, and holiday adverts are paraded in front of us and we can do nothing to stop them. I do not mind paying for trailers as they are related to the film, but paying for adverts that appear on the TV and which I have no interest in whatsoever is more of an insult than anything. We all understand however that the climbing prices of popcorn and candy are there to offset fees paid back to the studios and are the main source of revenue for the theater. The sad fact is that with out this most theaters would struggle to stay in business.
This may just drift off if the studios cause too much of a fuss but it will be interesting to see what effect this has on cinemas in the future.