Feb. 19th, 2014

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I've sidestepped talking about a lot of major media-related news items that have been circulating lately. For instance, I didn't bother writing a Superbowl post this year because I didn't see the game. I did go online afterwards and watch all the ads, but I didn't see much that was worth writing about. The movie spots in particular were lackluster, and none of them were for films I had much interest in seeing. Not many big summer films made an appearance. The biggest exceptions were "The Amazing Spider-man 2," which gave us a two-part look at one of the action sequences and "Transformers: Age of Extinction," which confirmed that Mark Wahlberg is indeed taking over hero duties from Shia LaBeouf. Neither were all that interesting.

So may bigger titles failed to make appearances, there's no point listing them all. Most of the movie ads were for spring releases like the new "Robocop" and "Captain America," and smaller action films like "Need for Speed," "3 Days to Kill," and "Pompeii." The most successful of them was for "Muppets Most Wanted," which had some funny digs at quote mining and Twitter users. Nobody was really using the Superbowl to launch a campaign or to show off anything really new. As a result there wasn't much buzz about any of these spots online after the game, the way there was about the 360 shot in the Superbowl ad for "The Avengers," for instance, or that one for "Independence Day" back in 1996 where Roland Emmerich sent a UFO to blow up the White House. Still remember that, don't you?

So why didn't Hollywood come out to play this year? Well, you just have to look at the premier of the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" trailer yesterday on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Within an hour of broadcast it was all over the internet and the buzz for the movie went through the roof. Consider that the asking price for a 30 second Superbowl spot this year was $4 million. Consider that the new "Guardians of the Galaxy" trailer ran well over two minutes and likely didn't cost anything to air, because Marvel and ABC, which airs Kimmel's late night show, are both owned by Disney. Consider that though Kimmel's audience is only a fraction of the audience for the Superbowl, the trailer has since been seen by exponentially larger numbers since it has gone viral on the internet.

Many marketers have decided that instead of piggybacking off of a bigger media event like the Superbowl or an awards show, they are better off being an event all by themselves. The internet has opened up marketing possibilities in recent years, and many film enthusiasts are more likely to see a new trailer online before they see it in theaters or before the ads appear on television. Not all films have the clout to do this, but when you're highly anticipated tentpole like a new Marvel movie, then the benefits of reaching the Superbowl audience may not be worth paying a premium for, especially as the price tag continues to climb higher every year.

Also when you're a movie with unfamiliar characters, a high concept premise, and a very particular sensibility like "Guardians," you need more than 30 seconds, or even a full minute to sell it to a broad audience. if you look at the new trailer, it spends the bulk of the time having John C. Reilly carefully introduce the five main characters. I suspect this is also why upcoming May releases "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" sat out this year's Superbowl. They're franchise films, but potentially too narratively complicated to get their pitches across so quickly. With "Spider-man" and "Transformers," all you really need is action shots and explosions.

A few weeks ago I wrote about movie theaters cracking down on lengthy trailers, where guidelines were put forward that suggest trailers shouldn't run longer than two minutes. I don't think there are many previews that need to be longer, but you could make a case for some of them. Despite its length, the "Guardians of the Galaxy" trailer is all intro and has no spoilers to speak of. However, you could edit it down to two minutes easily enough and keep the longer version online for those who are curious to see more. Extended internet-only previews are already fairly common. "Cloud Atlas," for example, released one that was nearly six minutes.

In short, the internet has had a big effect on the way movies are releasing new footage, and I expect that it will continue to. As marketing costs go up, television and theatrical previews will still be important, but they're being supplemented in a big way by internet previews, which may end up overtaking them in the long run. We'll always see some movies willing to pay for Superbowl ad space, but there are other ways to make a similarly big splash these days.

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