Coming soon: trailer jam

As Memorial Day approaches, the trailer wars are heating up.

With Universal’s “The Lost World” expected to attract as many as 10 million people in its first week, it’s no wonder distributors are competing like velociraptors at feeding time to get their coming attractions onto screens showing the “Jurassic Park” sequel.

In recent years, as the cost of advertising media has spiraled, trailers have become something of an obsession with Hollywood studios. And distribution execs are putting increasing pressure on exhibitors to play their onscreen ads.

“It’s gone absolutely ballistic,” says Freeman Fischer, who handles distributor relations for Cineplex Odeon. “It’s gotten really bad in the last year and a half.”

While trailers are no substitute for television and print ads, execs say, they are an economical way to target core consumers.

Moviegoing aud

“People have realized that the audience for trailers is by definition a moviegoing audience,” says Mark Christianson, distribution exec at DreamWorks. “Once one studio started to push for more trailers, everybody else had to respond. Now it’s really competitive in trailer placement.”

This newfound interest on the part of distributors is forcing theater owners to juggle their suppliers’ demands against their customers’ patience levels.

“It’s a question of how much time a patron will sit and tolerate watching trailers,” says one top exhibition exec.

That tolerance is increasingly being put to the test. Many major exhibitors have extended their so-called “pre-feature entertainment” program to include four, five, or even six coming attractions. That’s in addition to the theater’s own “policy trailers” and, in some cases, additional advertising.

Lengthy trailer programs also add to the difficulty of scheduling convenient showtimes and can even reduce the number of shows per day.

Eleven films are jostling to have their trailers screened with “Lost World.” They include Sony’s “Men in Black,” 20th Century Fox’s “Speed 2: Cruise Control,” Buena Vista’s “Con Air,” Paramount’s “Titanic,” Miramax’s “Cop Land,” DreamWorks’ “Peacemaker,” Warner Bros.’ “Contact” and New Line’s “Spawn.”

Then there’s Universal’s own “The Jackal,” which comes attached to every print of “Lost World,” plus “Leave It to Beaver” and “A Simple Wish,” which will be shipped along with the film.

Ways to accommodate

The fact that many theaters receive multiple prints of blockbusters like “Lost World” will make it a little easier for circuits to service their numerous suppliers: The trailers can be split among different auditoriums in the same multiplex.

In single-print situations, exhibitors may rotate trailers.

Most of the major circuits now have distributor relations execs who implement national trailer policies. “I send out a memo every week,” says Cineplex’s Fischer.

“Space reservations are booked well ahead between myself and the studios.”

In major markets, regional film buyers will call key theaters with specific instructions on exactly which trailers should play with which films.

Distributors pay close attention to how well circuits live up to their agreements. Virtually every major distributor now has an exhibitor relations department whose job is to make sure the studio’s trailers — as well as standees and posters — are getting in front of audiences.

A whole new industry

The trailer craze has even created a new aftermarket cottage industry. Studios routinely utilize “trailer checking” services, which send employees into theaters around the country and assess where trailers are playing and what kind of reaction they’re getting.

If trailers aren’t showing up where they’re supposed to, it may become a topic of discussion during negotiations between distributors and exhibitors.

“We have integrated trailers very much into the sales department,” says Blake. “It’s a relationship point if nothing else. It doesn’t make sense to sell a picture to theaters that don’t want to promote it effectively.

“Some circuits have better control over what’s played than others,” adds Blake. “It’s better than in years past, where you had a projectionist bobbing for trailers in a huge bin.”

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