[UPDATE: AMC has back-tracked on plans to allow texting during film screenings. Read on for more.]
In an age of both prevalent online streaming and high ticket prices sometimes making people reconsider a trip to their local cineplex, it's no wonder that theater chains are considering new options to help increase engagement with customers. That is especially true when it comes to those who fall within the prized millenial demographic.
In a bid to cater to that group, AMC Theatres is weighing whether or not to allow the use of cell phones during film screenings. The hope/intention behind such a move? Promoting social media use that would make the current generation of young people to feel more at home during the theatrical environment.
The possible change was floated during a recent interview with AMC head Adam Aron, who offered the following justification for the shift in policy (per Variety):
"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."
While his analogy is a tad hyperbolic, there is also a logic behind Aron's reasoning. The millenial generation is very much constantly connected to their social media second life, and many rarely (if ever) travel without their smart phone or other portable online device. On the other hand, while allowing messaging during movies might prove an effective outreach method to the aforementioned group, it's likely to alienate just about everybody else. To that end, any time other theater chains have ever publicly hinted at relaxing their no cell phone use stance in the past, the resulting online backlash has been swift and overwhelming.
To his credit, Aron realizes this, and seems to understand the need to balance the two extremes:
"At the same time, though, we’re going to have to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t disturb today’s audiences. There’s a reason there are ads up there saying turn off your phone, because today’s moviegoer doesn’t want somebody sitting next to them texting or having their phone on."
When asked about possibly creating a specific seating section where texting is allowed, Aron suggests that the more likely scenario would be to carve out particular showings or theaters as social media friendly zones. That sounds feasible in theory, although one wonders whether the hypothetical increase in millenial revenue would outweigh the likely amount of lost business that would come as a result of the change.
After all, why would consumers who despise being distracted by phone use in movie theaters want to support a chain that wants to make that practice more acceptable? For those with multiple movie theaters within driving distance, it's easy to imagine that many of these folks would simply choose to vote with their wallets and patronize a theater who still looks down upon texting during the film.
In the end, everyone knows that cell phone usage during movies will never go away completely. If a customer chooses to ignore the warning messages prior to the film and spend their time updating their Twitter feed, there really isn't much theaters are likely to do about it. Their money spends just as well as someone who obeys the rules. Still, there is something to be said for not actively condoning a behavior most moviegoers find off-putting.
UPDATE: In response to the backlash against the idea of texting being allowed during select screenings at AMC theaters, the company has issued the following statement:
To our AMC guests,
At AMC, we are committed to innovation and to being imaginative in our efforts to deliver you the best. We strive every single day to make your movie going experience at AMC Theatres simply amazing. You love the magic of movies, and we love doing all we can to make them all the more magical for you.
During the past few days, you may have heard media reports about another idea AMC Theatres was considering, testing whether some movie goers might want texting allowed in a small selection of our theatres. Unlike the many AMC advancements that you have applauded, we have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want. 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 that we have relegated to the cutting room floor.
With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future.
Instead, we’ll focus on our other ideas to delight and entertain you. In the next few years, we intend to invest more than $1 billion to continuously enhance our theatres and systems. At AMC, you’ll feel our commitment to providing you with the absolute best in sight and sound technology, a significant increase to the number of our large screens, including the incomparable experiences created by IMAX and Dolby Cinema, much more comfortable seating, including our hugely popular recliners, new sumptuous food and beverage offerings, a more engaging AMC Stubs program, as well as dramatically richer content in an enhanced website and more functional smartphone app. These are all in our immediate future – and yours — across the country at AMC.
We’ll continue to be as creative as we can to elevate the AMC experience, doing so in partnership with you, our guests, and never in a way that will compromise your love of coming out to the movies.
So, as always, we invite you to join us in sharing the excitement of seeing stories told well. However, when the lights dim, we’ll remember your advice that your fellow moviegoers should turn off their phones.
Adam AronCEOAMC Theatres