Last Wednesday, Adam Aron, the CEO of AMC Entertainment, made a lot of people in the world want to kill him when he said that the movie theater chain was toying with the notion of allowing texting during certain film screenings in order to appeal to millennials. In an interview with Variety he said:
“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.”
Millennials definitely do like phones, but not as much as this guy likes hyperbole.
During the subsequent 24 hours, people went bonkers on Twitter, demanding that Aron be terminated or burned at the stake or whatever. They were outraged that the moviegoing experience might be marred by dozens of lit-up screens, but there was an underlying thread of existential dread: Has humanity arrived at a point in its evolution where people under 30 can't be expected to put their phones away for two lousy hours (even fewer if it isn't a Judd Apatow movie)? "WHAT'S THE WORLD COMING TO?" everyone cried to the heavens.
Ultimately, Aron ate his words and washed them down with a $6 orange Fanta from concessions. On Friday, AMC sent out the following tweet, statement attached:
NO TEXTING AT AMC. Won't happen. You spoke. We listened. Quickly, that idea has been sent to the cutting room floor. pic.twitter.com/JR0fo5megR— AMC Theatres (@AMCTheatres) April 15, 2016
"Cutting room floor" — get it? Movies. A little old-fogey humor for their actual clientele.
According to the Nielsen people, millennials are seeing fewer movies at the theater these days — although the most recent data seems to be from 2014 — and I imagine CEO Aron has a mandate to increase millennial attendance, regardless of how sharply it's fallen off. Every person or organization who wants to have influence now or in the immediate future is trying to court millennials. I'd follow that with "with varying degrees of success" except that it seems like they're almost never successful. Failed boomer attempts to pander to young people are well documented, and the worst of them are the ones that make the target audience feel icky. Or insulted.
Not only was Aron's implication that millennials don't go to the movies because they can't bear to be divorced from their phones for the length of a movie inadvertently insulting, but it felt like a weak, suits-in-boardroom-throwing-shit-at-the-wall attempt to diagnose a problem that has as much to do with the industry than with a millennial dependence on mobile devices.
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So here's where I point out the obvious: Going to the movies is really expensive. And millennials are under-employed. And, yeah, they really like their phones and are content to stare at them a lot.
And cinemas keep coming up with reasons to charge moviegoers even more for a ticket: 3-D, reclining seats, a dumb thing called Regal RPX, which as far as I could ever tell was just regular movies played really, really loudly.
Letting people text in theaters isn't the answer. Neither is spending a billion dollars on "enhancements and systems" that'll be used to justify charging even more for tickets down the road. Instead, expand matinee hours. Give away free popcorn and sodas once in a while. Host innovative events and film programs that would appeal to younger people. Sell molly at the concessions stand.
And, really, since I'm throwing out suggestions, go ahead and ban open-mouth popcorn chewing.