BY JOHN FITHIAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATO AND BRIGITTE BUEHLMAN, DIRECTOR OF INDUSTRY RELATIONS, NATO
The Executive Board of Directors of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) voted to adopt a guide that will standardize in-theater marketing materials with the goal of driving movie ticket sales and creating a better moviegoing experience. Announced in late January 2014, the voluntary guidelines went into effect immediately for any advertising campaigns being developed for movies scheduled for domestic release on or after October 1, 2014. (Advertisements already in cinemas for such movies at the time the final guidelines were announced will be grandfathered.)
The process of creating these guidelines was not an easy one. In April 2013, NATO's executive board voted to move forward with creating industry-wide guidelines to encompass marketing lead time for in-theater marketing materials; trailer length and placement; guest engagement methods; and film checker/auditor conduct. NATO met with the largest seven studios later in 2013 to discuss the guidelines. After some very engaged conversations, NATO took the constructive feedback we received and made significant modifications to the draft guidelines.
Specifically, NATO substantially lengthened the marketing lead time requirement; added two exemptions per distributor per year for both trailer length and marketing lead time; and made other changes. A copy of the revised and final guidelines as adopted by the NATO Executive Board of Directors accompanies this article.
Highlights from NATO's In-Theater Marketing Guidelines include:
All in-theater marketing materials should include the targeted theatrical release date of the film/event once the release date has been set.
Cinemas will advertise a wide-release movie no sooner than 150 days with trailers and 120 days on all other marketing materials before its theatrical release date. The final guidelines permit two exemptions per year per distributor based on the theatrical release dates for two movies.
Trailers shall not exceed two minutes in length. The final guidelines permit two exemptions per year per distributor, with a maximum length of three minutes.
NATO members appreciate that their studio partners strive to make the best use of marketing dollars by developing and distributing effective advertising materials to sell their movies. For the cinema environment, though, some marketing materials can be distributed too early to be optimally effective, and some trailers can be too long. Given the limits of time and space in theaters, and the desire to maximize sales to all movies in a fair and competitive environment, exhibitors believe these new guidelines can help the entire industry sell more tickets.
Movie distributors own their movies. Motion picture exhibitors own their theaters. Exhibitors license the right to play features. But the time on screen before the feature, and the available space throughout the cinema complex, are owned and managed by the exhibitor. NATO's members do not exercise any control over movie advertisements in other media outside of the cinema environment. To maximize the industry's marketing efforts and to best promote competition, however, exhibitors must set the parameters for advertisements in their own cinemas.
NATO, on behalf of our executive board and general membership, emphasizes that these guidelines will evolve in response to technological innovations, marketing and advertising trends, competition in the marketplace, and consumer demands. Furthermore, the guidelines are completely voluntary and will be implemented through individual exhibition-company policies, which may vary. NATO will serve simply as an information clearinghouse where distributors may notify the industry of their desire to exercise an exemption under the guidelines.
Questions regarding the guidelines can be directed to Brigitte Buehlman at email@example.com.
NATO In-Theater Marketing Guidelines
MARKETING LEAD TIME
All marketing materials (trailers, printed materials, standees, digital posters, clings, display cases, mobiles, and all other in-theater advertising) should include the targeted theatrical release date of the film/event once the release date has been set.
Cinemas will advertise a wide-release film/event no sooner than 150 days with trailers and 120 days on all other marketing materials before its theatrical release date.
• Two exemptions per year per distributor (exemptions are granted per title and not per marketing material), based on theatrical release date.
• Advance notification of the intended use of an exemption must be given to NATO via firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN-THEATER PROMOTIONS & EVENTS
All film marketing promotions and events (including project pictures and special screenings) require exhibitor home office approval. Please refer to individual exhibitor policies regarding approval, insurance, participation, etc.
PRINTED AND DIGITAL MATERIALS AND STANDEES
Negotiations of marketing materials will be coordinated between the distributor and the exhibitor's home office.
Installation of marketing materials will be coordinated between the installer and theater management.
Two-Minute Trailer Length Limit
Trailers shall not exceed two minutes in length. Two exemptions per year per distributor, with a maximum length of three minutes, based on the theatrical release date of the film being advertised.
Advance notification of the intended use of an exemption must be given to NATO via email@example.com.
Any on-screen marketing materials that are considered special content (behind-the-scenes footage, sizzle reels, extended looks, etc.) must be negotiated with individual exhibitors.
Exhibitors will only place trailers with content appropriate for the particular feature (expands on ratings match currently in place). NATO encourages its members to follow the MPAA trailer placement advisories and NATO coordinates with MPAA on a regular basis to communicate this information in a timely manner.
No third party brands/endorsements (video games, television shows, etc.) are to be embedded. On-screen marketing materials should be thematic to the feature.
Trailers, whether attached or not, are played in theaters at the discretion of each theater chain or individual theater owner. (See MPAA Marketing Administration guidelines.)
Industry standard trailer ID/naming convention is to be used by the distributor in order to facilitate programming/playlist assembly at the theater level.
No direct response prompts (QR codes, text-to, sound recognition, etc.) other than URLs are to be placed in/on the trailer, as they encourage mobile phone use during the show.
Distributors must make trailers available in both flat and scope so that exhibitors may match the trailer's format to that of the feature.
FILM CHECKERS & AUDITORS
Required to check in with theater management when they arrive at the theater before starting their inspection. They must be professional in dress and demeanor, and be respectful of the management team's time. Any information requested will be provided at the manager's convenience once all guests have been handled.
Required to wear proper identification and have an approved letter from the distributor, or they will be asked to purchase a ticket.
May not in any way affect the guest experience, cannot take up a seat in the auditorium, and cannot interact with guests. Once their official duty has been completed, they must leave the auditorium (they may not watch the film/event).
Film checkers and auditors violating these rules will be asked to leave the complex.
North Hollywood, Calif. -- The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) today released final voluntary in-theater marketing guidelines for movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada (attached). The guidelines are designed to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the industry's marketing efforts and to promote competition.
The new guidelines call for a maximum trailer length of two minutes; marketing lead time is limited to 150 days prior to release date for trailers and 120 days for all other in-theatre marketing materials. Two exemptions per distributor per year will be allowed for both trailer length and marketing lead time.
In April 2013, NATO's Executive Board voted to move forward to create industry-wide guidelines to encompass marketing lead-time for in-theater marketing materials; trailer length and placement; guest engagement methods; and film checker/auditor conduct. After discussions with executives of the seven largest distributors and other distribution executives, the guidelines were significantly revised to take into account their concerns.
The voluntary guidelines will go into effect for any film released domestically on or after 1 October 2014. (Advertisements already in cinemas for such movies as of the date of this announcement will be grandfathered.)
These guidelines will evolve in response to technological innovations, marketing and advertising trends, competition in the marketplace, and consumer demands. The guidelines are completely voluntary and will be implemented through individual exhibition company policies, which may vary. NATO will serve as an information clearinghouse where distributors may notify the industry of their desire to exercise an exemption under the guidelines.
Sunday Update: Universal's Ride Along easily remained in first place this weekend with an estimated $21.2 million. While the break-out comedy starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube was down a sizable 49 percent from last weekend's three-day frame, some front-loading was to be expected given the strength of last weekend's debut thanks to the rush out of Hart's growing fanbase. In the bigger picture, Ride Along continues to perform especially well based on pre-release expectations and its modest cost. With a ten-day start of $75.45 million, Ride Along is currently running 24 percent ahead of the $60.74 million ten-day take of 2010's The Book of Eli (which fell 52 percent in its second weekend to gross $15.73 million).
This weekend's only new wide release, Lionsgate's I, Frankenstein, debuted all the way down in sixth place with a very disappointing estimated $8.28 million. That was well below expectations and represented a poor start given the film's cost and that late January is usually a good time of year to launch genre fare. While direct competition was clearly a factor in the film's poor start, at the end of the day moviegoers simply weren't drawn in by the marketing of I, Frankenstein (which also had the added advantages of playing in 3D and IMAX formats). I, Frankenstein opened 53 percent softer than the $17.50 million start of Legion back in January of 2010.
The audience breakdown for I, Frankenstein skewed heavily towards both male moviegoers (62 percent) and moviegoers over the age of 25 (60 percent). The film received a B rating on CinemaScore and did register a respectable estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio of 2.95 to 1 (after opening with just $2.81 million on Friday). Regardless, I, Frankenstein is very likely to fade away from theatres quickly.
Universal's Lone Survivor claimed second place with an estimated $12.6 million. The Peter Berg directed war film starring Mark Wahlberg was down 43 percent from last weekend, which represented a respectable weekend hold. Lone Survivor has grossed a strong $93.61 million after 17 days of wide release and is quickly closing in on reaching the $100 million domestic milestone. The film will also soon surpass the $95.72 million final domestic gross of 2012's Zero Dark Thirty and is currently running 33 percent ahead of the $70.44 million Zero Dark Thirty had grossed at the same point in its run.
The Nut Job claimed third place this weekend with an estimated $12.32 million and is within shouting distance of Lone Survivor for second. The 3D computer animated film from Open Road was down a solid 37 percent from last weekend. The Nut Job continues to exceed expectations in a big way with a ten-day start of $40.27 million. That places the film 7.5 percent ahead of the $37.46 million ten-day start of 2009's Hotel for Dogs (which fell just 24 percent in its second weekend to gross $12.86 million). Open Road has already scheduled The Nut Job 2 to open on January 15, 2016.
Fellow computer animated family film Frozen held up significantly better this weekend with an estimated fourth place take of $9.04 million. The blockbuster from Disney continues to display tremendous holding power as it was down only 23 percent from last weekend. With a massive total domestic gross of $347.82 million to date, Frozen is now only $20.25 million away from reaching the $368.07 million final gross of Despicable Me 2. Frozen should get an extra boost next weekend from the release of a sing-along version of the film.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit rounded out the weekend's top five with an estimated $8.8 million. Paramount's attempted franchise re-launch starring Chris Pine and Keira Knightley was down 43 percent from last weekend. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has grossed $30.17 million through ten days of release. That is on the very low end of expectations and places the film an underwhelming 10 percent behind the $33.50 million 2012's This Means War had grossed at the same point in its run.
Sony's American Hustle finished in seventh with an estimated $7.1 million. The David O. Russell directed Oscar nominee for Best Picture was down a healthy 28 percent from last weekend and has now grossed $127.04 million to date domestically.
Estimated weekend grosses for other Best Picture nominees included $5.0 million for The Wolf of Wall Street (down 29 percent from last weekend), $2.29 million for Her (down 43 percent), $2.05 million for Dallas Buyers Club (up 117 percent), $2.02 million for Gravity (up 8 percent), $2.02 million for 12 Years a Slave (up 31 percent), $1.44 million for Nebraska (up 62 percent) and $1.03 million for Philomena (down 18 percent). Respective total grosses stand at $261.20 million for Gravity, at $98.03 million for The Wolf of Wall Street, $43.54 million for 12 Years a Slave, $25.77 million for Philomena, $20.37 million for Dallas Buyers Club, $19.18 million for Her and at $11.60 million for Nebraska.
Saturday Update: Lionsgate reports this morning that I, Frankenstein posted $2.82 million in its Friday debut, putting it on course for a weak opening weekend of $7.8 million.
Early word of mouth on the film doesn't appear to be doing it any favors, either. The Flixster user approval/anticipation rating is down to a disastrous 58 percent from nearly 36,000 voters after just one day, while only 6 percent of 34 Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the film a positive grade.
What happened? Quite simply, I, Frankenstein was already the recipient of negative online buzz for months ahead of its release as trailers failed to connect with its target genre fan audience in the way that producers had hoped it would along the lines of the Underworld franchise. Once similarly male-skewing flicks Lone Survivor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit hit the market this month, as well as last week's breakout of Ride Along, the writing was on the wall for the doomed reimagining.
Speaking of last week's top film, Ride Along remained in the top spot on Friday with an estimated $6.3 million. Its 8-day domestic total is an impressive $60.6 million, and BoxOffice projects the Kevin Hart-Ice Cube comedy will total $21.5 million for its sophomore weekend.
Check back on Sunday morning for official studio weekend estimates.
Friday Update #2: Sources now say that I, Frankenstein could do as little as $3 million on Friday. That figure would put the film on pace for a weekend around $8.5-9 million.
Check back on Saturday morning for official studio estimates.
Early Friday Update: Sources tell BoxOffice that I, Frankenstein is looking at a soft $4.5 million for Friday, putting it on course for an underwhelming $12-13 million weekend.
Ride Along, meanwhile, is looking at a possible $5.5 million today as it looks to handily hold onto first place this weekend. Expect an $18-20 million weekend based on these early Friday numbers.
More to come...
By Shawn Robbins
For awhile, we've been talking about how impressive 2015's summer schedule is shaping up to be. Films like The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Inside Out, Ted 2, and Minions form a very solid foundation for what the heart of next year should bring, but this past weekend's announcement that Warner Bros.' untitled Superman-Batman film has moved to May 6, 2016 arguably makes that year's summer calendar the hottest to watch now.
The Superman-Batman film (should we just start calling it Justice League?) is now in a game of chicken with Disney/Marvel's previously dated, but still untitled, release for the same first weekend of May. The general assumption is that flick won't be a fourth Iron Man, and out of Marvel's existing solo franchises under the Avengers umbrella, Tony Stark's would be the only one with enough box office muscle to flex against Warner's and DC's highly anticipated meeting of two of the most popular characters in history. Other than The Avengers itself, of course.
Instead, we can safely expect Disney/Marvel to re-shuffle its schedule of untitled releases. They could even bump their planned May 2016 offering (their first of two that summer) up by a full month to early April if this year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier proves to do well in the same pre-summer slot. That would also go a long way toward widening the "official" summer box office calendar to include part of April, an industry strategy coming closer and closer to fruition thanks to recent hits like Fast Five and The Hunger Games. Alternatively, Disney/Marvel could opt for a July/November release pattern.
Fun fact: the seemingly inevitable move would snap the streak of a Marvel-related film kicking off May for an unprecedented nine consecutive years (began by 2007's Spider-Man 3). Six of those will have been officially part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity (aka, the Avengers series).
Disney also has their Alice In Wonderland sequel scheduled for May 27 (Memorial Day weekend) that year--up against Fox's X-Men: Apocalypse. The Mouse House is in an interesting position because if they take Marvel's flick out of May entirely, Alice is their default anchor for what is usually the busiest weekend of the year. They probably won't give up both release dates, but they'd be wise to move up Finding Dory a few weeks from its June 17 date. That would simultaneously take it out of a head-to-head competition with Fox/DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon 3 (also planned for the same date), not to mention give the studio a more lucratively promising holiday frame. (Let's face it: the Alice sequel is very unlikely to do the same big business as its post-Avatar beneficiary predecessor did in a less crowded 2010 market.)
That said, Dragon 3 is a candidate to move on its own when considering the average turnaround for animated sequels is three years--not two, as the franchise's creators are currently aiming for.
Broadening 2016's superhero glut even more will be Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 3, set to bow on June 10. The date's been marked since before Superman-Batman and Apocalypse were dated for the same summer, but it would deviate from the franchise's history of opening over a major holiday weekend or the start of May. As the fourth planned superhero movie opening within the span of less than two months, Sony's now in the position of asking themselves whether it might be wiser to push Spider-Man into July... or out of summer entirely. November and December 2016 are currently wide open, but they'll probably wait and see what Disney/Marvel does first.
2015's calendar itself is a work-in-progress, so don't be surprised when 2016's outlook shifts again over the next 18-24 months.
As things stand today, though, the moviegoing public's appetite for summer franchises of the superhero ilk will be tested to the utmost if five major comic adaptations hit the big screen in one summer. Unfortunately, the laws of averages and diminishing returns dictate that not all will come out looking rosy. Marvel's success has bred a newfound sense of competition among rival studios, and they're starting to push back against Disney's and Marvel's planned dominance over the release schedule. Will it work out for both studios and fans, or will it backfire on everyone and burst the comic book bubble?
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