AMC Theatres Allowing Texting in Movie Theaters

Just yesterday, AMC Entertainment head Adam Aron really made a lot of AMC Theatres customers angry by indicating that the chain of movie theaters was considering having some of their screenings become more texting friendly. The consideration came about as a way to help entice more millennials who can’t put down their phone to come to the movies. However, an overwhelmingly negative response from customers has Adam Aron pulling back on any potential plans for AMC Theatres allowing texting in theaters.

Read a full statement about the matter from AMC Theatres after the jump.

Following yesterday’s uproar, AMC Theatres posted this to Twitter:

AMC Theatres Press Release

As the press release notes, “In this age of social media, we get feedback from you almost instantaneously, and as such, we are constantly listening. Accordingly, just as instantaneously, this is an idea we have relegated to the cutting room floor.” It turns out that incessant complaining on social media can do some good from time to time.

Even though AMC Theatres was considering allowing texting in some theaters, they’ve gone in the complete opposite direction by saying, “There will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow, and not in the foreseeable future.” That’s a pretty strong stance, though they probably won’t be as strict about it as the Alamo Drafthouse has been about texting in theaters.

In fact, yesterday, Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League released this full statement about the matter of texting in theaters, doubling down on his company’s strict rules that ban texting in their movie theaters around the country:

First off, I’d like to say that I am very excited for Adam Aron to be taking the helm at AMC. I am a fan of the Starwood Hotel and Resort brand and the customer experience that his former company consistently delivers. Bringing that leadership focus to our industry will undoubtedly yield positive results and drive healthy, innovative competition.

That said, I disagree with his statements on texting in a movie theater. Innovation in this direction could seriously hurt our industry.

My first objection stems from cinema’s relationship with directors and producers, the content creators. Auteurs focus for years to complete their films. We as exhibitors rely completely on these creators for our content and have an unwritten obligation to present their films in the best possible way: on a big screen with big sound and a bright picture in a silent, dark room. You can only be immersed in a story if you are focused on it. If while watching a film you are intermittently checking your email, posting on social media, chatting with friends, etc., there is no way you are fully engaged in the story on screen. I find that to be disrespectful to the creators, those who make the very existence of cinema possible.

My second objection stems from the generalization of millennial behavior.

“When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow. You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”  – Adam Aron, quoted in Variety.

22-year-olds aren’t alone; heavy cell phone use is far more widespread. Today, 68% of U.S. adults have a smartphone, a staggering increase from 35% just five years ago.

I spend a great deal of my life on my phone, too. I check news, social media and email obsessively. If there is the slightest of lulls in my day, a 20 second pause in an elevator, for example, I impulsively break out my phone and check something. I always carry an external battery because I can’t make it through the day on the standard power. I am not alone. According to some reports, the average American checks their phone over 100 times a day.

This isn’t just a millennial behavior, it is a global attention span epidemic.

Regardless of your age, turning off your phone and focusing on a good movie is much-needed therapy. This time of focus in a darkened room is core to the experience of cinema.  Only with this focus can you lose yourself completely in the story and really fall into the magic spell of the movies.

Plenty has already been written about glowing screens and unchecked chatter driving people from the cinema experience, so I won’t belabor that point further. And I’m fine with “second screen” experimentation with regards to alternative content, gaming, interactive screenings, etc.

But when it comes to our core business, creating a special environment for our customers to experience new stories for the first time, there is absolutely no place for the distraction of a lit phone screen.

At the Alamo Drafthouse we are actively engaged in trying to make sure cinema remains a compelling destination for young people, and I agree this should be a focus for the whole industry. I just don’t believe that this line of experimentation is the right tactic. A firm policy against talking and texting in the cinema is about respect: for the filmmakers and fellow cinephiles of all ages.

Outside of this issue, however, I look forward to being challenged and inspired by what innovations and enhancements Adam Aron brings to the cinema experience.

Honestly, I’m glad that League came out and made this statement, especially with regards to his defense of the millennials who actually want to preserve the magic of going to the movies and don’t need to use their phone while in the theater. Even if the generalization about the younger sect of the population was true, it doesn’t mean they need to be pandered to at the expense of other moviegoers.

Thanks to AMC Theatres for listening to their customers and doing what they can to preserve the experience of seeing a movie on the big screen. Now if they can just get those ticket prices down a bit, that would be great.

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