Theatre Owners May Start Allowing Cell Phone Use During Movies

Well if last month’s Open Forum Friday was any indication, people have some pretty strong opinions about the use of cell phones in a movie theatre. At the time, The Hollywood Reporter had just released a study indicating that many moviegoers would actually be in support of allowing cell phone use, but most Film Junk readers and movie fans around the blogosphere were vehemently against it. Now this week the debate continued during a panel about industry issues at CinemaCon. Many theatre owners are saying that they are afraid to do anything that will discourage teenagers from going to the movies, and that includes prohibiting cell phone use — in particular, texting. Will we start to see more theatre chains relax their rules restricting mobile devices or will they continue to do the right thing and preserve the moviegoing experience?

Deadline reported on the panel discussion and the “lively debate” that ensued by including some quotes from various industry professionals. Greg Foster from IMAX stated that the younger generation has “become accustomed to controlling their own existence” and that without their cell phones they “feel a little handcuffed.” Regal Entertainment CEO Amy Miles agreed that they need to be thinking about how to appeal to teenagers and that they might experiment with allowing cell phone use during movies that skew younger (ie. 21 Jump Street). On the flip side, one person who was very vocal about discouraging cell phone use was the Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League:

“Over my dead body will I introduce texting into the movie theater… I love the idea of playing around with a new concept. But that is the scourge of our industry. … It’s our job to understand that this is a sacred space and we have to teach manners.”

It’s no surprise that Tim League would be opposed to cell phone use as the Alamo Drafthouse has essentially turned their zero tolerance policy into a selling point. But will the Drafthouse soon become the exception rather than the rule? It’s starting to feel that way. As I’ve stated before, the 16 to 24-year-old demographic is so important to the movie industry that theatre owners will clearly do whatever it takes to make them happy. I guess the real challenge is trying to convince Generation Y that they can unplug for 90 minutes and still survive. How do you feel about this situation? Would you stop going to the theatre if texting was allowed or would you be okay with it?

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  • kyri

    My local theater has wi-fi, so people can use facebook while they watch films..

  • Michael M.

    I own and run a small arthouse theater (single screen, 250 seats, 45sqm screen) with two of my friends, and we’ll deginitely never allow texting or’ heaven forbid, talking during a screening.

    Also, I might frown at you if you rustle your snack packaging too loudly during the movie.

  • dan day

    Kyri, I can’t believe your cinema has wi-fi. I would hate watching movies there. The glow from phones is really annoying and distracting. Do many people actually use it to check Facebook?

  • Dan

    Way to go Michael. Thank you for preserving the movie-going experience for those of us who can manage to go two hours without turning our phones on. If my local movie chains allow phone use during screenings, I would definitely seek out venues that do not allow such use. Is it time to start planning an elaborate home theatre room…

  • Byron B

    This is beyond stupid. If they allow or worse encourage texting/phoning/whatever they alienate everyone else.

  • I’m not a tech savvy guy but can’t theatre owners just install paneling to block cell phone reception. It seems like that could solve the problem right there.

    Frankly, I’m tired of having to plan my movie watching schedule during off-peak hours and days, such as a middle of the week matinee just so I can have an uninterrupted movie going experience.

  • Steve Kroodsma

    It was mentioned during the Open Forum Friday that they were thinking about blocking off certain theaters for texting, similar to smoking/non-smoking. I wouldn’t mind this so much if I could just choose to be in a theater where no one was going to be whipping it out.

    Also, if they forced everyone intending to use their phone to sit in the back 5 rows and keep them on silent, I can see myself tolerating it.

  • Ovenball

    My location has several signs in the lobby reminding customers to silence cell phones and to be quiet and courteous. There are large signs above each auditorium. Reminders play during preshow content and as part of our policy trailer before the film. We perform regular theatre checks and are constantly reminding guests to put their phones away. I know distracting cell phone use occurs during most of our shows. So, I ask you, is there even really a cell phone ban in place? I mean short of collecting the devices before the show, what more can I do at the theatre level to stop this? It really seems a big portion of the audience wants this, and I’m the jerk for trying to stop it.

    I’m all for the signal blocking idea. I’d love that.

  • Hugo Van Nor

    Why bother going to the movies then? Have a spine and set your rules. If you can’t that long withoutlooking at your phone or have to check your texts. Maybe you need to be tazed. People need to learn to get over themselves. Sure the technology is great. But, there is nothing that important.

  • If you don’t crack down on cell phone use and texting by teens, if you just give up and accomodate them, you’re discouraging everyone ELSE from coming to the theater, and those are the people that count, the one that would say “Well fuck this place” and never come back.

    Teenagers are assholes, at least a good chunk of the ones that I have to deal with at my theater on Friday nights. The movie is typically the thing they’re least concerned about. Much of the texting and cell phone crowd is made up of groups that get dropped off by mom and dad to spend money that isn’t theirs and dick around with their friends. If they aren’t texting and using their cell phone in the theater, they have no problem doing it in the lobby or outside.

    While a lot of the articles that get brought up here that deal with in-theater issues, whether its this or pricing or service-related stuff, are pretty interesting and bring up some good points, there really isn’t much of anything that can be done to change things at the theater level. As a theater manager, it’s cool to hear about innovative things that are being done at places that actually have more of a say in the way they do business, but for a smaller theater in a huge chain, it would be damn near impossible for us to have a say in things, as we’re constantly having decisions made FOR us that don’t necessarily benefit us.

    I’m all for hassling kids for using cell phones in theaters, and right now, that’s cheaper than outfitting our theaters to make their “completely ignoring the movie they paid to see” experience more enjoyable. That, and hassling underage kids trying to get into R-rated movies. When they really, really deserve it, it’s a lot of fun. Some tips to any kids out there: Make sure your mom doesn’t drop you off right in front of us, that’s usually a big clue that you might be too young for “American Reunion”. Also, leave the friend with braces at home. That kid’s dead weight. And if you’re going to buy tickets for something else, with hopes of sneaking into what you really want to see, buy tickets fro something believeable. I really don’t think that a bunch of 15-year old boys WANT to see “The Lorax”, which just happens to be showing across the hall from “American Reunion”.

  • Recently I’ve been to a screening where one of the patrons was checking their text messages while the “please shut your phones” disclaimer was shown on screen.
    I thought it was very ironic and immediately took out my own cell phone so I can tweet about it.

    No, actually I didn’t.

    I think the tide is against us, folks.
    This is what the people want. Bread and circuses and texting in the cinema.

  • Eleanor

    I’m 19. I judge, tell off, and think less of any friend or boyfriend of mine that cracks out their phone during a film. It totally puts me off, and distracts me from the near irreplaceable experience of being totally absorbed in a film for 2 hours, with no outside interference or distractions.
    Clearly, if cinemas (or “movie theatres”-if you like) are twisting cinema rules/etiquette to appeal to the idiotic young generation, then customer service has gone way too far.

  • kyri

    @dan

    yep.

    You-tube is where I draw the line.

  • Brendan

    Let’s be honest, the biggest issue with texting disrupting movies is the fact that the screens are too bright for the low light of the theater. If people had their phones dimmed properly, and were less obvious when using them (ie keeping them down lower) it wouldn’t be as big of an issue. But unless phones all were set to automatically dim to a minimal amount (which many phones do, but people either have to manual turn on the function or they just decide to turn it off), there’s still going to be bright phones in theaters. That said, I’d much rather have someone texting than talking, which I feel is a much bigger issue.

  • Anthony

    “Will we start to see more theatre chains relax their rules restricting mobile devices or will they continue to do the right thing and preserve the moviegoing experience”

    It’s never been a “rule” so much as a suggestion. And by that I mean, yeah, they say don’t do it, but it’s never, ever enforced. When was the last time anyone saw a theater employee tell a cell-phone user in a theatre during a film to turn it off and/or put it away. It’s like all of those “no moshing” signs at concerts. It is never enforced when pits break out (unless you live in Boston).

    I made my opinion clear on texting in a theatre in that open forum post. While i’m neutral to texting in a theatre and appear to be one of the few that feel that way, I think cell phone use in a theatre should not go beyond that. Texting is one thing. Talking is another. Then again, talking whether or not it’s on a phone or with the dude sitting next to you is annoying. Which they already “ban”, yet is only ever really enforced if another movie goer feels like telling the talkative person to shut up.

  • Anthony, I suggest you go to a theatre that actually does care about enforcing those “suggestions”. Their are plenty of them out there.

  • SunnyPistol

    I like what the guy from IMAX said “teenagers have become accustomed to controlling their own existance”. I take that as meaning “teenages have a greater sense of entitlement than ever before”. I,ve dropped my movie going from once a week a couple of years ago to oncea month at best. It,s unfortunate that these disrespectful self centered spoiled brats are dictating the way movie theatre owners dp business. But hey, this is what free market economy is all about.

  • Just block cell phone reception. Teenagers will still go to the movies. Also, I hate to say this, but old people, in my experience, are just as bad as teenagers as far as talking goes.

  • Alexis

    I am 21 and believe it or not I know how to unplug for 90 minutes. If I can, then anyone can. People who need to constantly text or use their cell phone should not be a movie. You can wait and see the movie on DVD in your house where you can text all you want. People that love the movies like me want to go for the experience, not to constantly be distracted by a little bright screen.

  • I really think that there needs to be the distinction between someone who arrogantly texts, beeps etc, and those that “need” to keep there phone on in a non invasive way to others. I have a 7 year old, occasionally my only chance to see a film involves a babysitter. My phone stays on silent, only gets texts etc, I’ll check it maybe every 30 minutes, carefully to not to light up those around etc. No one would even know. If there was an emergency, I walk out and chat in the lobby or whatever. It’s a shame, but the way my life is I couldn’t really go to a film if there was a blanket ban on phones or coverage. I agree with all here, but it’s a question of degree and just having to adapt to it.
    I’ll add that assholes chewing with their mouth open and the general obsession with chowing down as a group the moment the lights go out is just as annoying to me as any other kind of irritation.

  • Ovenball

    Wait. What kind of phone is that? I’m pretty sure that girl is handicapped and is talking into a Wii controller.

  • Anthony

    “I really think that there needs to be the distinction between someone who arrogantly texts, beeps etc, and those that “need” to keep there phone on in a non invasive way to others. I have a 7 year old, occasionally my only chance to see a film involves a babysitter. My phone stays on silent, only gets texts etc, I’ll check it maybe every 30 minutes, carefully to not to light up those around etc. No one would even know. If there was an emergency, I walk out and chat in the lobby or whatever. It’s a shame, but the way my life is I couldn’t really go to a film if there was a blanket ban on phones or coverage. I agree with all here, but it’s a question of degree and just having to adapt to it.
    I’ll add that assholes chewing with their mouth open and the general obsession with chowing down as a group the moment the lights go out is just as annoying to me as any other kind of irritation.”

    Game, set, and match
    Boom. Roasted
    TKO

    Anyone of those applies.

  • Phones in cinemas should be banned plain and simple. People can’t be trusted to be considerate. “but it’s an emergency” I hear them cry. Ha! no emergency is important enough to warrant ruining the movie for myself and a hundred other people who have paid good money to be there.

  • mplo

    Oh, come on….that’s a bunch of hogwash! In any case, s/he can still go out to the lobby and talk, if need be.

  • mplo

    Israel has had the kind of system in place for years that causes cellphones to jam up if anyone attempts to use them in a public place, such as a movie theatre, restaurant, museum, etc. Too bad a similar system can’t be implemented in movie theatres here, in the United States.

  • mplo

    Texting is just as disruptive as talking on one’s cellphone, imho, because the small, bright light emanating from one’s cell phone is extremely distracting. It should NOT be encouraged.

  • mplo

    They’re both big issues, due to the small, bright cellphone lights.

  • mplo

    The signal-blocking idea would be great.

  • mplo

    I still remember going to see a screening of the film “West Side Story” at the Boston Public Library, in Boston’s Copley Square not long ago, and enjoying the movie, but, several rows down from me, there was a man texting on his phone for most of the movie, and the light was quite distracting….and irritating. I DO wish that more theatres, libraries and auditoriums would put a stop to this practice.

  • Wayne Regier

    The “emergency” excuse has overstayed it’s welcome. Plenty of emergencies were taken care of before the advent of cellular technology became widely accessible. It is statistically proven that emergency call centers are inundated with more erroneous calls than actual threats of danger. Shutting your devices off for 2 hours will not kill anyone.
    You have kids? Your choice. Doctor on call? Your choice. Significant other away on travel? Your choice.
    Keeping your device off while 50- 200 people enjoy entertainment they have paid for? Your responsibility.

  • mplo

    Adults who text/talk on their cellphones in movie theatres during the movie feature presentation(s) should also be hassled, imho.