Update, April 15, 2016
AMC put the kibosh on the whole concept of texting-friendly movie theaters in a statement posted on the AMC Theatres Facebook page.
AMC Entertainment Adam Aron wrote in an open letter, "Unlike many AMC advancements that you have applauded, we have heard you loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want. In this age of social media, we get feedback 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."
Original story, published April 14, 2016, follows.
Texting in movie theaters: major nuisance or the future of the film-going experience?
AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron recently floated an idea to Variety to bring more people, especially those ever elusive millennials, into his theaters: allowing the use of smartphones during movies.
"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," Aron said. "You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life."
He noted that this move would have to be done without irritating other audience members, possibly taking some auditoriums and turning them into more "texting friendly" spaces. It sounds like the digital equivalent of a smoking section.
Tim League, the founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema disagrees with Aron's sentiments. "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," said League in a statement. "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."
And you do have to wonder whether the 20-somethings Aron is aiming to bring into the fold will appreciate being painted with such a monolithic brush. And of course, young people aren’t the only ones who experience a little separation anxiety when their phones are switched off.
But while this move may appeal to a certain group of people, it has the chance to alienate everyone else. There's certainly a lot to be gained in polarizing your intended audience, but is Aron's approach the right way to do that?
Aron says that AMC's goal is to "reshape our product in some concrete ways so that millennials go to movie theaters with the same degree of intensity as baby boomers went to movie theaters throughout their lives." But what if that isn't the experience they want?
That's the question that's cropped up around Screening Room, Napster founder Sean Parker's idea for a streaming service that would allow users to buy a set-top box for $150 and then pay $50 to watch first-run theatrical releases the day they arrive in theaters, with movie distributors getting $20 of that payment. Aron declined to comment on it, but big name directors such as J.J. Abrams and Peter Jackson have voiced their support for the concept.
Last month, AMC made a $1.1 billion deal to purchase Carmike Cinemas. If the merger goes through as planned, it will make AMC's parent company, Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group Co. Ltd., the operator of the largest movie theater chain in the United States. You can only be the number-one theater chain in the country if people show up.