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Cellphones in movie theatres?

Many years ago I attended the Toronto Film Festival and what amazed me almost as much as the films was that the moment the curtain went up and the credits started the audience was utterly silent.

They were actually paying attention.


Though my theatre experience varies quite a bit from noise all the way through the film and bright flashes of light from cells during the show I think its all been undercut by the moronic celeb news and quizzes that play before the movie. In fact, my attendance has dropped dramatically precisely because of that 20 minute kindergarten level preshow.

And now it seems that the exhibitors are considering not only allowing but encouraging cell use during showings.

First report: The Hollywood Reporter hired a firm called Penn Schoen Berland to survey 750 social network users ages 13 to 49. Their primary goal was to find out how social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook, effect people’s viewing habits. It turned out they’re both quite important. You can read the full results here but one in three people has decided to see a movie based on a post on Facebook or Twitter and those numbers get even bigger looking at television and music.

But the most disturbing finding is the one mentioned above. Over 50% of people ages 18-34 like to use their phones in a theater and just under 50% would seek out a theater that allowed them to do that.

What the survey also found, though, was that overall, not just that smaller segment, 75% of total people think using a phone in a theater is distracting and ruins the expeirence. So it’s just the younger kids who disagree.

“Millennials want their public moviegoing experience to replicate their own private media experiences,” says pollster Jon Penn.“Having dedicated social-media-friendly seats, or even entire theaters, can make the moviegoing experience more relevant and enjoyable for them.”

I do understand that there is some validity to the idea of client-centered thinking. You try to accommodate the predilections of customers, try to remove barriers that might exist, but that generally does not refer to things that interfere with the enjoyment of other customers or things that actually distract the customer from the product you are promoting. Of course, if your goal is simply a space they feel comfortable in, and not the showing of a movie that they will actually watch, allowing cell phones is the only way to go, and might as well let them bring in their vuvuzelas while they are at it.

And here was a report about a performing arts theatre in the planning stages: The theater’s director, John Haynes, said the following.

This is the wave of the future for the people we worry about attracting. Simply forbidding it and embarrassing people is not the way to go. So we are wiring the building in anticipation of finding ways to make it work over time….I don’t think this is something that changes overnight. We didn’t want to build the last great concert hall of the 20th century, but maybe the first one of the 21st century.

To me this just seems to say that they don’t think that their perfomances can hold the attention of their target audience (or perhaps any audience). Maybe they should have viewer guides which rate the productions has less or more compelling and for the former to make sure to bring along distractions. (I could have used such a warning during Tree of Life.)

2nd report: Lets start with Amy Miles, CEO of Regal Entertainment, who said that in order to court younger viewers, the chain has talked about “being more flexible” about phone use at films like 21 Jump Street. “If we had a movie that appealed to a younger demographic, we could test some of these concepts,” Miles said. “You’re trying to figure out if there’s something you can offer in the theater that I would not find appealing but my 18 year old son might,” she added.

Greg Foster, of IMAX — you know, the theater chain that relies upon screens that are supposed to fill the room? — talked about his 17-year old son, who is constantly using his phone.

We want them to pay $12 to $14 to come into an auditorium and watch a movie. But they’ve become accustomed to controlling their own existence.

I love this idea of capitulating to those who want to control their existence. Isn’t the whole point of a movie to enthrall, to captivate, to take away control?

Or could it be that so many movies aimed at the younger demographic are just not good enough to compete with texting your boring friend? Just maybe this does say as much about movies as it does about the users. And if it is about the users, is it possible that they do not think of the movies as much more than background to them texting and gaming in a large dark room…it might go some way to explaining how Dark Knight was actually referred to as a great movie. Or why there is a sequel planned for X-Men First Class.

Ultimately I think that Alamo Drafthouse has the appropriate response to this..

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