This is a subject that gets movie execs going based on the lively debate this morning at a panel about industry issues at the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas. Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Jeff Blake kicked off the discussion saying that 20 years ago “kids would come every week” to the movies. But no more. “I’m concerned that the moviegoing experience isn’t just for baby boomers.” Regal Entertainment CEO Amy Miles says that her chain currently discourages cell phone use “but if we had a movie that appealed to a younger demographic, we could test some of these concepts.” For example, she says the chain talked about being more flexible about cell phone use at some screens that showed 21 Jump Street. “You’re trying to figure out if there’s something you can offer in the theater that I would not find appealing but my 18-year-old son” might. IMAX’s Greg Foster seemed to like the idea of relaxing the absolute ban on phone use in theaters. His 17-year-old son “constantly has his phone with him,” he says. “We want them to pay $12 to $14 to come into an auditorium and watch a movie. But they’ve become accustomed to controlling their own existence.” Banning cell phone use may make them “feel a little handcuffed.” That set off Tim League, CEO of Alamo Drafthouse — a small chain that makes a point of throwing out customers who talk or text during a film. “Over my dead body will I introduce texting into the movie theater,” he says. “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.” He says it should be “magical” to come to the cinema. But Miles shot back that “one person’s opinion of magical isn’t the other’s.”
Execs had other pet peeves. For example, Foster decries ads for TV shows in movie theaters. “My tentacles go up,” he says. “How is this possible?” Blake says that moviemakers face “a real challenge” overseas where theaters often mix ads with trailers. The trailer “is the lifeblood of producers and the marketing department” — and one of the top three reasons why people go to the movies. “It’s so important to play those trailers properly, lights down at showtime.” League, whose chain serves meals, also said that there’s “kickback” among consumers on concession pricing — especially the core staples. “Those prices do seem high to me,” he says. “You can get a pint of beer for less than it costs to buy a large soda.”
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