/ Travel & Leisure

Why do we have to sit through so many cinema adverts and trailers?

Back in 2011, we discussed the number of adverts and trailers at the cinema. Has anything changed seven years on? Our guest, film enthusiast and blogger, Richard Halfhide, shares his experiences.

This is a guest post by Richard Halfhide. All views expressed are his own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Last night I went to a film at my local cinema. I was running late and didn’t get there until 25 minutes after the scheduled start.

As a prolific cinemagoer I never had any doubt I’d make it. In fact I’ve long since got wise to their game and knew from visits in the preceding weeks that they’d be running a full 28 minutes of ads and trailers before the feature presentation.

Not, of course, that this is information they, or indeed any other cinema chains choose to make readily available.

But can you imagine going to a gig, or perhaps a trip to the theatre, and arriving at the designated time only to be expected to ‘enjoy’ a stream of commercial messages before the event you’ve paid to see?

Unless you took it to be some kind of situationist joke you’d probably be pretty peeved, but for some reason we’ve been indoctrinated into accepting it as part of the cinema ‘experience’.

What is the ‘gold spot’?

Twenty-eight minutes, as it happens, is exactly the same length of time that was clocked when Which? last covered this subject seven years ago. But if, like me, you can’t shake the impression the problem is getting worse it’s probably not your imagination.

In an age when traditional media have to compete for our attention with the internet and social networking, the cinema auditorium represents an effectively captive audience, and in recent years advertisers have increasingly targeted it.

The website of Digital Cinema Media (DCM), a joint subsidiary of Odeon and Cineworld, and which currently handles advertising for 82% of UK cinemas, is this year targeting revenue of £95m.

DCM boasts on the front page of its website of its ability to hit the ‘Gold Spot’, that point 100% of cinemagoers are in their seats, i.e. after the trailers have finished and the film is just about to begin. In other words, it’s now a point of pride to hit you with ads until the very last moment.

Cinemas need ads

What some people may not appreciate is that cinemas actually make very little profit from ticket sales alone, depending instead on revenue generated from advertising and food.

Moreover, with streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime both eating into their audiences, and creating or buying up product which bypasses theatrical distribution entirely, the big cinema chains are increasingly reliant on the major tentpole releases to pull in the crowds.

The trouble is screen rental for these big studio releases doesn’t come cheap, which is probably why some cinemas now charge an additional ‘blockbuster’ fee for the privilege of seeing them. Hence the pressure to front-load your filmgoing experience with lots of lucrative product promotion.

Is anyone to blame?

So does the fault really lie with audiences and their appetite for expensively produced, SFX-laden movies? Or perhaps it’s with the film studios for demanding excessive prices for the right to show them?

Well it’s probably a little of ‘yes’ to both and more to the point so far audiences have been prepared to tolerate it.

But with excessive advertising the cinema chains are now being drawn into a very dangerous game, one that depends on the continued appetite for a certain kind of moviegoing experience. As other platforms are increasingly able to offer an equivalent audio-visual experience, or indeed superior product, how much longer is this sustainable?

I love going to the movies and the last thing I would wish is to see slide towards extinction or reduced to a fringe form of entertainment. But if, as the cinemas are so keen to impress upon us, the ‘big screen’ experience counts for something isn’t it time its presentation was treated with a little more care?

This is a guest post by Richard Halfhide. All views expressed are his own and not necessarily shared by Which?.


The other significant factor driving cinematic decline is the raft of improvements in home cinema. Despite Which? for years telling its readers that a 28″ screen size was too large for many rooms, most homes are now realising how short sighted that advice was, and are buying 55-70″ screens which, together with the very high quality audio available at low cost, is making watching a blockbuster in the comfort of your home infinitely preferable to traipsing out on a cold, wet night, to fight your way through hordes of others, chewing, unwrapping noisy sweets, coughing, sneezing and generally doing a good imitation of a Porton Down test site to then have to watch yards of ads before the main feature arrives.

Gave up visiting cinemas years ago and haven’t missed the experience.

Hey Ian, have you tried watching films on a home projector? I bought one recently (for a lot less than a big TV) and with the right speakers it really is a ‘home cinema experience’. Would highly recommend. You do need a big screen or white wall though, which might put some off.

@oscarwebb, both my sons installed “home cinemas” quite inexpensively; they are diy handy. A decent projector (worth looking on Amazon warehouse for one with damaged packaging at a reduced price), and a motorised screen that rolls out of the way into the ceiling, or a boxed area, when not in use (the diy bit). It is very effective for both dvds and regular tv.

Our tv is a 40″ plasma now some 12 or so years old. Perfectly happy with the size even though we have a decent size living room. Not sure what we’d choose when this expires – were were quite happy with our much smaller (26″) CRT before its picture shrank into a black blob.

We have a projector, Oscar, and it is – as you say – a great experience. We installed a 9′ drop screen and we already have a 9_1 surround system, so it works rather well. Couldn’t persuade my wife to don an ice ream tray, though…. 🙂

Ah great! What projector do you have, may I ask?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Good point about projectors’ electricity usage, Duncan. I found some further discussion here:


I like this comment:

‘In winter it saves on the heating bill as it doubles as a fan heater. I think the cooling fans are to stop the lamp from melting the projector.’

We have an Epson but we only use it on rare occasions. When our eldest comes round for an evening of watching old Sci Fi movies, for instance, such as the incredible ‘Things to Come”, or “The Quatermass Experiment”.

Duncan: LED 55″ TVs run on 55 w; approximately a sixth of what it took to power a 12″ B&W tube TV. Very Eco friendly if you ask me.

Projectors are a little power-hungry by comparison.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I don”t wish to get involved in this discussion but I have to say that CRT TV’s may well be obsolete but are far from unusual in people’s homes. They might not always be the main living room TV but have not entirely been discarded, just moved to secondary positions. A run through the homes on a property website shows numerous examples. It is probably the case that most ordinary people do indeed have LCD TV’s but there are many who do not.

Duncan: I wasn’t aware Plasmas were still being sold. And the current LED ones barely use more than a lightbulb or two.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I think you have misread my comment Duncan. I was quoting your words [“Most ordinary people have LCD TV’s“] and agreeing with you. The ratio of LED’s to LCD’s is not the issue I was commenting on [and I cannot tell the difference between them in a photograph anyway].

I was trying to make the point that, although CRT TV’s are, as you said, obsolete, a surprising number of homes still have one somewhere, occasionally as the main or only TV.

Please note that I was not contesting any of your statements so there was no need for your retort.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Duncan: “In 2015, Plasma TV production was discontinued for the consumer market.”

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I consider myself very fortunate in being able to see films in an auditorium seating 80 people where it is rare for anyone to be behaving anti-socially. Being surrounded by a relatively small number of people adds to the enjoyment of sharing the experience. Mind you we have to book early such is the demand for seats. We too prefer to enter the cinema shortly before the feature and book seats where we will cause little disturbance.

Maboza Richie says:
1 October 2021

Hi Oscar, do you know Oscar Framlington?

A few months back I was booked into an 8pm start for a film. Arrived in plenty of time, only to find the car park extremely busy. After around 20 minutes of waiting for a space we had to give up and park on the road, making us extremely late. We got in around 8:30pm only to find the lights hadn’t even been turned off yet!

It worked out for me that time, but still involved a further long wait through adverts and trailers.

With regards to home cinema, I have a nice big screen at home with surround speakers which are excellent, but now I live in a flat we have to keep the volume to a minimum 🙁

I try to get into the cinema screen in time for the trailers and miss the adverts. Many of these are just repeats of ones already broadcast on TV anyway. However now even the trailers appear to be sponsored by advertisers so there is no escape. I suppose if the adverts subsidise the cost of viewing the film that is OK. Still frustrating though. Even more frustrating for people with weak bladders eating and drinking expensive products purchased at the cinema. Do advertisers ask each cinema to tell them how many people there are in the audience before, during and after the advertising is projected. I guess if they knew that most of the audience seem to turn up after, they might reconsider the value of such.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This is great. Thanks for the info Duncan.

I mainly miss advertising that is cinematic and unique to the context. Far too much of it seems like a booming, smirking part of a multichannel ‘experience’ that a brand is creating because it feels it will be more ‘cohesive’ or similar.

This fails to recognise the difference in attention given and the potential for an ad in such a space to genuinely make a point. Even when cinema ads try to break the mould or the fourth wall (a more meaningful concept in an auditorium) they’re tame and half-hearted in the execution.

Ads can be an enjoyable part of the pre-roll. But they are currently so clumsy that they have made the entire cinema experience feel cheaper and weirder.

And who on earth is following on in an app as the ads exhort? Rude in the first, and pointless in the main.

I remember seeing the Guinness surfer ad at the cinema: fabulous!!!

Let’s be grateful that they don’t butcher the films with ads in the middle… yet?

I remember when they showed a short film first (*), then there was a break when you could buy an ice cream, then they showed a few ads but never for too long, and then on to the long feature. Perfect cinema experience. You got bang for your buck then.

* Do kids nowadays know about eg Charlie Chaplin? Ideal way to introduce them to him, and Laurel and Hardy, and so much more classic stuff.

The Guinness adverts were among those I had in mind, Sophie – especially the “Genius” one with the field of ripe barley. I shall have to look that up now it’s been brought back to my consciousness.

The other really notable one from the 1970’s was a Benson & Hedges cigarettes advert with a pool and lizards.

In each case, it was the music that made it and the subliminal messages, plus of course the stunning photography, lighting and direction.

Many others came close, mainly in the fields of drinking and smoking though.

Jason says:
7 October 2018

Damning by faint praise: the Guinness add was made 19 years ago. It is great, but is enduring 30 minutes of forgettable ads before every film worth the once per generation exception?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

TV – what’s that?

Is it some kind of “opium for the masses” or has that baton now passed to W?C and other social media?

I have been watching Vanity Fair live on ITV, after discovering that their iplayer service also features adds. But apart from that and Bodyguard, I’ve not watched TV for years.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Whenever we change channels we seem to end up in the middle of b****y adverts. Thank goodness for the BBC (some of the time). I’m a fan of Talking Pictures; the films may not always be the best but there is a lot of nostalgia in some of the old B&W ones – scenes of real life as it once was.

I’ve bought a small collection of British documentaries from the ’30s to the ’50s. I’d like to think that the poverty and deprivation apparent in those days is much less now. One took a group of children from Birmingham to Weston-s-Mare by train. The first time many had been on a train let alone seen the sea. Followed by an Oscar winner showing how young deaf children were gradually taught how to recognise words and learn to speak. Better than TV (although Talking Pictures “Glimpses” has some interesting short subjects).

Duncan, I only watch digital terrestrial TV if I get really, really bored with what’s available on YouTube and/or in my pile of pending DVDs.

For some reason, YouTube’s AI has decided it’s time for me to re-visit Blake’s 7. The particular channel I’m watching it off doesn’t seem to be monetised, so no adverts there.

I watch commercial channels sometimes but avoid the adverts by recording the programmes on the PVR and then zipping through the ads. There are some interesting documentaries on Channel 5 [the sort that used to be on the BBC before they spent all their money on mindless game shows and humourless sit-coms].

Believe it or not, there are actually better things to do than being slumped on a sofa watching utter rubbish, but it keeps the population occupied I suppose.

I wish all the cooking programmes were shunted off to their own channel. For all their popularity and the stacks of books that spin off them, the average household’s cuisine hasn’t improved that much and many people survive on ready-meals. And why has cooking become so competitive?Who really cares who wins? – We can’t taste it!

Perhaps we should have a D-I-Y equivalent where the contestants design and make a cabinet with at least two drawers and then paint or french-polish it.

I think they tried a sewing programme but – yawn! yawn! – . . . oh, dear! . . . ; sorry about that, where was I? Oh, yes . . . never mind – it doesn’t matter. BOR . . ing!. Oh look! There’s Eamonn Holmes for the ninth time this week – or is it Ruth Langsford? Who cares? It’s not important. The trouble is, if I don’t follow popular TV I can’t understand the gossip mags, and if I’m not up-to-date with the gossip [does my tum look big like this?] I can’r enjoy the TV shows.

I agree about ch 5. The most recent I saw was the Palin one on North Korea. Very impressive and nuanced piece.

Forunately the new edition of Private Eye has just dropped through the letter box. Now that would make a good tv magazine programme.

It’s some time since I last went to the cinema, largely put off by the poor quality films and the appalling cinema experience. But when I used to go frequently I remember some brilliant adverts, highly creative, superb production values, engaging themes, stirring music – the lot. And most of those were created by the British advertising and film industry. What has happened to this creativity? It’s been lost in the digital black hole that has swallowed up talent and ingenuity and substituted metronomic rigidity, repetition, imitation, and noise. I can’t fault the advertising industry – it’s the clients who are to blame for their slavish and unimaginative attempts to appeal to the youth market [that’s the one with not much spending power, of course – smart choice!].

As Ian said “Gave up visiting cinemas years ago and haven’t missed the experience” – me too!

Watching movies from optical discs or streaming services gives me an ad free experience.

We have a BENQ projector and a 10′ screen bought for a projected talk by Prof Goulson on bumble bees. Ideal for the larger audience for photos and data I have yet to try it out on movies or games. Borderlands I or II would seem ideal for scaring the grandson : )

The news last week that glysophate as a herbicide actually does affect bees adversely will no doubt feature in Gardening Which? but needs wider dissemination. It is not just insecticides doing the damage.

Seems to me it is man that does the damage – herbicides, pesticides, plastics, pollution, deforestation, climate change………. Does any other species cause similar damage?

A 10 foot bumble bee must be quite a sight. I find it fascinating to see the intricacies of very small creatures, particularly those fossilised hundreds of millions of years ago.

Shugg says:
6 October 2018

Living in Edinburgh, I only go to Filmhouse and Cameo. The former is non-profit making and the latter is a beautiful art deco Picturehouse cinema. Both show ads & trailers of around 22 mins. I always ask at box office what time the film actually starts and thus miss both ads & trailers. Only problem is when it’s a busy showing. If I have to enter while they are still on, I read a book or a magazine. Ads are wasted on me.

This is why people stay at home and it’s one of the great benefits of a HDD, such as TiVo, wind through ads. Haven’t watched one in years.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I now loathe the cinema and go rarely, taking ear-plugs to wear during the overly-loud adverts and trailers. I realise the commercial need for ads and trailers but why must the experience be both too long and highly unpleasant? What’s happened to the local ads of your nearby Indian restaurant and shoe shops that we used to get decades ago?!

With cinema tickets the price of local theatre do we really need all these ads? And the volume is just excessive, and why do all film trailers seem to have ‘whoosh!’,’bang!’, ‘thud!’ throughout them? When I subsequently see the actual film these annoying SFX are not there?!

I don’t have, nor want, large screen home cinema; I like going out. But cinema is an increasingly irritating experience all round. How can anyone achieve the same amount of (desired) scaryness during a horror film that is continuously punctuated by sniffing, giggling, bag rustling, pop-corn wafts! I have a better experience on my 32″ TV or 14″ laptop at home!!

Hi Roz – I share your nostalgia for the local adverts, especially the Indian restaurant “five minutes walk from this theatre” where the beaming proprietor and super-coloured menu pictures welcomed us in to the flock wall-papered, pink table-clothed world of oriental delights. One could almost taste the sultanas in the Peshwari naan. Of course, if you had ever dined there you knew different.

And then there was the one for the used car lot on the ring road. “Get a Good Deal at Gordon’s” it said and showed us ranks of luxi motors, flags and banners fluttering, and boot lids standing to attention. The slick and smooth salesmen [straight out of the Brylcreem ads] tempted us with smart deals on their Morris Marinas and Vauxhall Victors. The reality was not quite the same and it was more of an Arthur Daley operation with a few tired old bangers behind a chain-link fence, but how we admired the cinematic miracle projected on the screen and warmed us up for the main feature.

I also loved the “With the threat of Hitler safely behind them, the people of Britain are enjoying apple blossom time and a day at the beach . . .-type documentaries designed to cheer us up during the real austerity period. The Talking Pictures channel on TV brings back some of that but I miss the Kia-Ora orange squash and Sun-Pat peanut ads.

It’s purely the cost. Bring the prices of the tickets and especially the snacks to a reasonable level (ie the same as you would pay in Tesco, then many more would visit.

Keith says:
6 October 2018

Went to the cinema last night in our village hall – no adverts – £5 admission and beer £3 a pint. Inclined retractable seating so nobody’s head obstructing the screen – interval for top up with drinks crisps – no parking problems.

We do that sometimes in a nearby village. The seating is not raked but, with the screen at the right height, viewing is satisfactory. They get around a hundred in every Sunday evening. I couldn’t go recently because it clashed with Bodyguard on TV. The organisers even have a local committee to choose the picture, so they’re mostly decent, enjoyable films with wide appeal.

We are spoilt for choice where I live as we have two independent cinemas which are cheaper and still show the recent releases similar to the multiplex cinemas. Having said that, the local Showcase shows ads and trailers which are exactly 20 minutes long so if I want to miss them I know when to check in. I realise that as an OAP I can go to the earlier showings (as can most students) but the problem is mainly experienced by workers who can only go to the cinema in the evenings. My suggestion to them would be to look for a local independent and go there because they are amazing.

I stopped going to my local Cineworld and cancelled my monthly pass as I got fed up with being treated as a walking cash machine. The ads were too long. Allocated seating meant everyone was bunched up together. I never bought the expensive food there but others did and the smell of sickly nachos the noise of pop corn crunching distracted from the movie. Add to that antisocial patrons talking and using mobiles while the movie was on and I reached my limit.

I haven’t been back to the cinema in 2 years and enjoy watching distraction free movies at home on the streaming servkces.

I am pleased to see this subject being revisited as I think the amount of ads and trailers is scandalous.

I try to avoid the horrors of the multiplex experience by going to our local arts cinema but even there I get into arguments with people who effectively shine a torch in my face by firing up their backlit smartphone screens during what they perceive to be a lull in the film.

There are only two options as I see it if you want to have a decent cinematic experience – get a home cinema rigged out or go with other proper cinephiles to the BFI at the South Bank in London.

An telling moment for me was an infamous showing of Fifty Shades at Cineworld in Milton Keynes a few years back. A group of gals had overindulged before and during the show, and one of them basically exploded from every orifice – the film was abandoned and specialist cleaners had to come in to render the auditorium usable. Even for the multiplex this was taking smell-a-vision too far.