Discuss: Is Allowing Cell Phone Use At The Movies The Way Of The Future?

Features
by Kevin Jagernauth
March 28, 2012 2:03 PM
19 Comments
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We've all had that experience. Sitting down in a theater, and realizing, 30 seconds into the movie, that the person sitting next to you is not going to turn their phone off. They could be texting, tweeting, updating their Facebook status or, worst case scenario, even making a phone call. They may not even be the only ones in the theater. Sometimes, you'll put up with it for the duration of the movie, quietly seething. Sometimes you'll ask, politely, and they might even stop. Sometimes they won't, and things will get aggressive, confrontational even. And it's possible that it's not going to be going away.

Last week, eyebrows were raised by a study in The Hollywood Reporter on the way social media users interact with entertainment. Some discoveries stated the obvious -- 88% of those polled said they considered social networking a form of entertainment, 72% have posted online about a movie after seeing one. Some were more surprising -- only 9% says that comments on social media were their principal reason for seeing a movie, with good old fashioned trailers still accounting for the largest cause of a want-to-see factor. But the biggest headline piece regarded the use of smartphones in movie theaters.

Of the 750 social network users between 13 and 47 polled, 55% of those who confessed to using a phone in a theater admitted to texting during a movie, 27% have gone on Facebook, and 19% had made a phone call. And while 75% of all respondents said that mobile phone use in a theater "would make the experience distracting and less satisfying," in the key 18-34 demographic, a majority were said to believe that using social media during a movie would make the experience better, while just under half said they'd be interested in going to a theater that allowed phone use during a movie.

And while for many who view the cinema as a sacrosanct place of moviegoing worship, the bottom line is that how audiences choose to experience and interact with popular enterainment simply can't be ignored. One only has to look at Sunday night's "Mad Men" season premiere to see how things are dramatically changing. Numerous people were live tweeting the show (or updating Facebook) as they watched it, and though there were a small handful of dissenters, for most, this was a routine and expected practice (indeed, for many shows -- "Breaking Bad," "Game Of Thrones" -- live updates/comments/conversations for new episodes as they air are common practice).

So, are all these young people with their smartphones being overly entitled? Maybe. But the fact is, so were we less than a generation ago. In some regards, the movie industry is facing a similar sea change that their colleagues in the music biz did, when they failed to respond fast enough to when music began flying between fans over the Internet. Their stubborness and refusal to adapt nearly caused the entire industry to collapse and in many ways, it still hasn't entirely recovered. The movie biz has been doing a bit better, moving into the VOD and digital copy arenas much more quickly, but as a whole, the theater experience is one that is still that falling behind. With home theaters now reasonably affordable and high def streams of movies just a click (or BluRay) away, it's becoming harder to lure young moviegoers to theaters (particularly when tickets can cost $15-20).

Listen, we're not advocating texting or cellphone use at the cinema -- it still drives us nuts. But, we're old, and not the customers that are being looked at to sustain multiplex chains in the years to come -- it's the kids. And they set the tone for how movies are experienced, and if they want theaters they can sit in and text and tweet, only a fool would ignore what they're asking for. Cinema buffs will always have their arthouse altars and options to commune with cinema. We love that too. But multiplexes are entertainment chains, in service of making money, not honoring cinema. They never have been, never will be. They answer to the bottom line first and foremost. Just like screenings for Moms at a lower volume so they can bring their babies or live events like concerts or sporting matches beamed into theaters, allowing texting is another option for multiplex owners to capture a market that is already difficult to snare. We're not saying it's the only answer to attract younger moviegoers -- overpriced tickets and concessions, 3D surcharges, shoebox size and filthy cinemas, piss poor projection and more are still problems -- but social networking is part of the tapestry of how we communicate today, and that does need to be recognized.

We've said our piece, but what about you? Are you dying to head to a movie theater where you can text in peace? Now that the texting genie is out of the bottle, is there any way to get it back in again? Are we going to start seeing iPad screens light up next?  Weigh in below. --additional reporting by Oli Lyttelton

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19 Comments

  • RJ | October 16, 2012 6:42 AMReply

    Hi Everybody...I have been getting interrupted everytime I go to the movies by people's phones...I tried everything...complaining to managers,moving seats...asking people to stop...Nothing really works...I started looking over their shoulders to see what they were doing and most of the time they were checking their facebook newsfeeds...instead of getting mad I decided to do something about it...I created an iphone app that lets you look at your Facebook news feed in a night vision format that does not emit light in low light situations...It's called Stealth Mode...
    Check it out.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsHoW4GxhUc

    https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/stealth-mode/id554792630?mt=8

  • Mass | April 8, 2012 12:46 AMReply

    No. It'd better not be. That shit is incredibly obnoxious and disruptive. You know, when you're watching a film in a theater and some jerk off starts using his phone, it reminds you that you're watching a film, in a theater. Not supposed to happen. If theaters start doing that shit, they'll basically give me no choice but to subscribe to pirating films from the net. They come in HD now I guess, so it's not like I'm losing some of the experience from bad quality. It's a better alternative if you ask me. They usually come out before they even hit theaters too, so really, it'll be the theaters loss.

  • Lew Ojeda | March 29, 2012 12:51 PMReply

    "Cinema buffs will always have their arthouse altars and options to commune with cinema."

    Don't be so sure about that: http://theundergroundmultiplex.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/save-the-portage-theater/

  • Lew Ojeda | March 30, 2012 12:20 AM

    Here's a further reply to the blog post:
    http://theundergroundmultiplex.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/if-movie-theaters-allow-cell-phones-they-must-allow-for-other-things-too/

  • BradZuhl | March 28, 2012 11:09 PMReply

    I can't stand these theatres that serve food with waitress service during the film (a new phenomenon on the East Coast). It is totally disruptive and ruins the filmgoing experience. So if they're going to have theatres that allow that they might as well allow people in those theatres to text and talk on their cell phones because the movie watching experience has already been ruined.

  • BradZuhl | March 28, 2012 11:13 PM

    So basically what I'm suggesting is having theatres for complete jackasses where anything goes - ordering out for pizza delivery, talking on cellphones, explaining every detail of the film to the person sitting next to them, texting, playing parchesi.
    Then have separate theatres for REAL filmgoers who actually want to see a film without obnoxious, self-involved assholes who can't be considerate of anyone else in the world for two consecutive hours.

  • Ian | March 28, 2012 7:22 PMReply

    No, no... God no. I love going to the movies, but if this day ever comes, I'm done. I'll gladly watch from Itunes or Amazon or Vudu or whatever than sit through that.

  • Hombre Gato | March 28, 2012 5:01 PMReply

    750 social network users, but where were they polled? A mall? This also seems to omit a major difference when tweeting during television. There are commercials.

  • Andrew | March 28, 2012 3:30 PMReply

    When it comes to your cell phone in the theater, you have only three options:

    1) Turn it off.
    2) Put it on silent (NOT vibrate!) and never check it.
    3) Be an asshole.

  • Lee | March 28, 2012 3:29 PMReply

    If I have to endure a film with people texting/calling/pretend socializing, then I better have the option of immediately getting a refund, no questions asked. If you want to sit and text during a movie, watch it at home or somewhere else. Why is that so much to ask for?

  • Frank | March 28, 2012 3:19 PMReply

    If you'r going to be messing around with your phone during the movie, why go ? Your inconsiderate behavior just ruins it for someone else, which is why I've greatly reduce the number of movies I go see. The last movie I went to go see was Xmen First Class last summer...an guess what happened? Exactly ! Is it okay to ask for your money back if that happens ? I've been tempted.....

  • cineman | March 28, 2012 3:14 PMReply

    If you're playing with your dummy during a movie, you're not actually watching the movie properly, hence not enjoying the experience as you should, or even getting your value for money out of it. It's moronic, as is the idea of tweeting opinions about something as the "live critics" seem to have started doing, without actually watching it properly, thereby invalidating the opinion as it spills forth from your dribbling neutered brain.

  • Vincent Nero | March 28, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    The survey polled 750 social network users... its a small sample size and mind you its not 750 movie going patrons. If you asked movie goers if they would be happy with people interacting with bright led screens in a darkened theater, I have a hunch that it would be a fraction of a fraction of a percent.

    However, tweeting during a tv show or reading live commentary in the socialsphere is becoming a mainstream practice. Even with the rise of DVR, most people watch the live airing. Commentating and reading said comments during the airing makes watching TV a communal event bridging hundreds of thousands of households. You see, I said households, a typically private domain where one can do as they please, unlike movie theaters where consideration toward others needs to be paid.

    As for the fact that "88% of those polled said they considered social networking a form of entertainment", of course it is, and I am surprised not more feel that way. If you were not entertained by social networking, why partake in it. Moreover, Angry Birds is a form of entertainment, that does not mean that playing it during a movie would enhance your experience or the experience of the guy sitting next to you.

  • Arch | March 28, 2012 2:54 PMReply

    Let me put it this way. If you aren't the president of the United States, or a comparable nation, you are not important enough to use your phone during a movie when other people are trying to watch. The world can stand you being out of contact for two hours. If it can't, then only go to early matinee or late night showings where you can be where you belong, by yourself. Otherwise I'll feel no hesitation about jamming that phone into one of your orifices.

  • Mike | March 28, 2012 8:05 PM

    Here! Here!

  • Ryan Sartor | March 28, 2012 2:53 PMReply

    I find that in a stadium seating theatre, the person sitting in the front row, texting away, is the true problem.

    I will often sit right in the front of a theatre just so I don't have a cell phone light in my field of vision. Even when I do this, I will sometimes have other people sitting in that front row, texting away.

    I need to become more vigilant about not going to theatres that allow cell phone use.

    Even places that try to crack down, though, have a hard time. I was at a pretty packed screening last night and went to complain twice about texting. Each time, the theatregoer happened to stop whenever the usher would enter. I felt awkward walking right up and pointing out the specific gentleman, like tattle tailing at a playground.

    If texting at theatres is the future of moviegoing, then I'm done with moviegoing. Which is sad for me because it's my favorite thing to do.

  • Jeff Z | March 28, 2012 2:50 PMReply

    I personally do not think using a cell phone for any reason during a movie is acceptable, especially for texting or social networking purposes. Every week when I head to my local theatre I have to endure this behavior from several people who honestly have no consideration for the others who spent the same money to see the movie without their distractions.

    If theatres want to give would be testers their own theatre fine by me, but people should be considerate and leave their phones in their pockets for the roughly two hours they will be watching a movie.

    Just my two cents.

  • actionman | March 28, 2012 2:48 PMReply

    simply put -- if you talk/text/disrupt/update fb/make calls during a movie -- there should be an execution squad waiting for you outside.

  • Mr Anonymous | March 28, 2012 6:35 PM

    Well said! I couldn't have put it better myself! Kill the inconsiderate, selfish, ignorant motherfuckers!

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