The latest salvo in an ongoing war against texting in theaters was fired at a CinemaCon panel I moderated in Las Vegas with Sony vice-chairman Jeff Blake, Regal Entertainment CEO Amy Miles, "Fast & Furious" producer Neal Moritz, IMAX president Greg Foster and Alamo Drafthouse chief Tim League.
The panel revealed many things:
1. 3-D is here to stay.
2. So is digital projection. 35 mm exhibition will be over within the year, with no film stock for prints and no more projectors in the major chains. (See the Twentieth Century Fox letter to exhibitors, below.)
3. IMAX is growing at a rapid rate with high demand all over the world.
4. More alternative digital programming will be filling the mid-week hole in theaters.
5. The Arclight is only a model for high-end exhibition in certain sophisticated urban environments.
6. On-demand models like Tugg are a good solution for indie theaters around the country trying to land hard-to-book specialized fare.
7. Everyone hates too many ads before trailers. (So why do theaters do it?)
8. Financing and producing movies these days is harder than it's ever been, especially pictures in the mid-budget range.
9. Theaters are stuck with one-size-fits-all pricing structures–pricing for different kinds of movies won't work. But discounts during the week might be OK.
10. Theater chains are so hungry for more varied mid-budget programming–as the studios release more tentpoles and indies offer low-budget specialty fare–that AMC and Regal started their own distribution label, Open Road. They agree that the studios should change up the kinds of movies they make, not targeting just young males but every demo throughout the year, including the most frequent moviegoers, adults.
That's when the real news of the panel erupted. Miles volunteered that theaters are so eager to court the young demographic who are most distracted by multiple entertainment options on various platforms that Regal was considering offering them the option of texting in certain theaters. I turned to League, who needed no prompting: "Over my dead body will I be introducing texting into movie theaters," he said. "That's a scourge of the industry. It's our job to understand that this is a sacred place." The twittersphere went bonkers. Over 200 comments erupted on Deadline. And Miles has backed down a tad, for now.
The largest indie circuit, Landmark, which has long fought against texting and was one of the first to implement it, was inspired by the positive reaction to League's anti-texting tirade to become more vocal about their policy. Landmark chief Ted Mundorff not only added a no-texting advisory at the bottom of their newspaper directories and weekly Film Club Updates (which go to over 300K indie filmgoers across the country), but has insitituted in-theatre announcements before each show.
Let's hope more theaters take up the anti-texting cause. Sitting with other movie lovers communing over a movie in the dark is the ONE ADVANTAGE THEATERS HAVE in their ongoing campaign to keep fickle moviegoers coming back. Take that away, and it's OVER.