Theater Owners Consider Lifting Phone Ban

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by Matt Singer
April 26, 2012 5:45 PM
10 Comments
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"Taxi Driver."
This isn't strictly a film-criticism-specific news item, but it's a big enough issue to warrant discussion in this context. At CinemaCon in Las Vegas this week, several movie exhibitors exhibited a willingness to relax their restrictions on cell phone use in their theaters. The kids today, you see, with their iPhones and iPads and IDon'tCareIfIRuinTheMovieForYous, want to be allowed to text and tweet and talk everywhere. Exhibitors worried about the loss of their core audience, are considering caving to their demands. At Movieline, Jen Yamato compiles theater owners' comments on the subject and adds her own outraged voice to the mix. First, here's IMAX's Greg Foster on allowing cell phone use in the movie theater:

"His 17 year old son 'constantly has his phone with him,' he says. '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.' Banning cell phone use may make them 'feel a little handcuffed.'

And here's Yamato in response:

"To which I say: Handcuff those kids! Teach them some self-control, for goodness sake... The thing is, texting in a movie isn't just an issue of allowing overstimulated kids needing to be plugged into their apps and social networks and conversations at all times; it's a far more problematic issue of engagement at the movies... By encouraging texters to engage half-way with a film and allowing their bad behavior to ruin fellow moviegoers' ability to escape into the magic of the movies, we'd be killing the sanctity of film culture. Audiences will learn not to pay full attention to a film -- and if you can't focus on a film, how are you to appreciate it? Why come back to the movies every week if you care less and less about movies themselves?"

Exactly. Teenagers may be obnoxious, but they're not stupid. Eventually they're going to realize they're wasting $14 to not watch a movie, and they're going to find some other way to spend their time and money. By that point, though, they'll have driven away all the considerate customers who just want to enjoy a film in peace. Then who's left to go to the movies? Permitting texting might boost attendance in the short-term and destroy it in the long-term.

I understand exhibitors' concerns and I recognize this is a complicated issue. Supposedly, the customer is always right, but in this case, you've got two sets of customers and what's right for one is wrong for the other. So how do you satisfy everyone?  Setting aside special phone-friendly screenings is an option that gets tossed around a lot, but that idea seems fraught with peril. How will you demarcate phone-friendly screenings from phone-not-so-friendly screenings? Will people be able to easily recognize that when they're looking up showtimes? What happens when someone accidentally buys a ticket for one type of screening when they actually want the other? This system seems likely to generate as many complaints as satisfied customers.

The only thing that exhibitors care about -- and with good reason -- is money. So the only way people who hate in-theater texting are going to win this war is by voting with their dollars. Someone needs to develop a method for the cell phone averse to financially reward chains that police their customers' behavior. If theaters do split their screens along cell phone usage lines, and the screens where cell phones are banned make a lot more money than the screens where they're allowed, that will get people's attention.

Read more of Jen Yamato's "Are We Actually Going to Let Industry Heads Advocate Texting in Theaters?"

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10 Comments

  • kris357 | May 4, 2012 12:18 PMReply

    Allow cell phones and you've lost another customer!

    It's already bad enough that the theaters that ban the use of devices don't enforce their own rules.

    Theater Owners: If you open a theater that not only bans cell phones and other electronic gadgets, but blocks a signal inside the actual theater seating area, then I'll be happy to pay a premium to enjoy a movie on the silver screen.

  • Scrap | April 27, 2012 7:09 AMReply

    What's wrong with texting. It doesn't disturb people around you. Talking on the cellphone should be banned for sure.

  • kris357 | May 4, 2012 12:14 PM

    What's wrong? How about this....The light on the screen is obnoxious - especially in a dark room. Secondly, unsilented text notifications that are constantly beeping. Both of those are very distracting. How about this...turn off the phone and enjoy a movie that you've paid to see....otherwise, hop on over to blockbuster and rent one...or better yet, just stay home and download a movie on your cell phone, since you feel you need to stay connected to everyone on the planet every second of every day.

  • Mike_M | April 27, 2012 1:03 PM

    I agree @BK... can't stand the bright screen of a cell phone being used during the movie, so distracting. Theater Owners are morons.

  • BK | April 27, 2012 10:02 AM

    A bright phone pulled out in a dark movie theater ABSOLUTELY disturbs people around you.

  • TELA Timmy | April 26, 2012 11:07 PMReply

    The reason I don't go to movies as much as I did is because of the lax enforcement of cell phone use and just the lack of respect others have for others... 14 x 2 = 28 bucks to be irritated by some Chuckle Head who behavior would have gotten most of us kicked out of places... Its just not kids its the 35 year old parent who want to bring babies and toddles to rated R movies and not having enough sense that there wet and hungry that's why there screaming... What you need is a code of conduct. Sad I know but there parents were too dense to teach them some manners and self control so now its everybody elses job....

  • Steve Vanden-Eykel | April 26, 2012 11:02 PMReply

    Hell, let 'em text. I quit going to movies years ago because the experience was just too excruciating, and it's all online for free anyway.

  • Norm | April 26, 2012 11:01 PMReply

    What a dumb-ass idea!!! You won't see me in the theaters if this happens. That's what the world has come to: Tweeting and Texting during Martin Scorsese's 3D movies!!!! I'll find better things to do with my money.

  • Leila | April 26, 2012 9:54 PMReply

    If this happens, I sincerely hope people who love movies will invest in cell-phone jammers. Well those or crowbars.

  • Eddie | April 27, 2012 6:19 PM

    Exactly.

    Ironically, the people polite enough not to use phones and who are going to be annoyed by them are also too 'polite' to tell the 'tards to knock it off.

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