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Make Room for Texting at the Movies

Guest Blog: Moviegoers are going to tweet anyway — why not make it official?

Going to the movies. You watch the trailers, get excited to go, buy your tickets, make the drive, buy the popcorn and the drinks and settle into your seat as the lights go down. The movie is amazing, you’re into it, the crowd is into it, everyone is having a great time until … something happens.

An all-too-familiar ethereal white glow. Someone has pulled out their cell and is excitedly tweeting about how cool the movie is, making sure to answer all retweets and text messages that result. What was a darkened room is no longer, what was a dreamlike state is now a rude awakening. You know that the person is just into the movie and you can understand why they want to tweet and text, but bright lights in a darkened room — it just doesn’t work.

What to do? Ushers can be called and offending parties escorted out, but you can’t unring the bell, the disruption has happened for you and for others in the audience and the night has ended for the texter in question, a classic lose-lose situation.

Some people hate to see a glowing screen in a darkened room; it disrupts their theater-going experience. Some people love to use a glowing screen in a darkened room; it enhances their theater-going experience. The difference is largely generational, and if you see theater patrons being escorted out for breaking the “no texting” rule, then chances are that they are in the 18-34 demographic.

This, of course, is the target audience for studio films today, especially for summer blockbusters, and so it does create a dilemma: how to satisfy the needs of all moviegoers without alienating your core demo?

One possible solution is to designate screenings as either ‘texting’ or ‘non-texting.’ A few years ago, restaurants had smoking and non-smoking sections, and consumers had a choice. What worked in space can work in time: Instead of separating different types of customers by space, you can separate them by time. As with any new product or service, studios and exhibitors will need to do their market research, figure out what level of demand exists for texting-allowed screenings and on what days at what times. Just as a guess, Fridays will be popular, since texting teens can be the first to see the movie and then tell all their friends about it.

As for overcoming generational conflicts, the understanding will be that if you go to a pro-texting screening that you know what you’re in for and can’t complain about the glowing screens. The understanding will also be that if you go to a non-texting screening, your phone stays off — no exceptions. As long as everyone understands the nature of the screening going in, the potential for conflict is greatly diminished.

So, who cares? Why not just stay home and wait for the DVD or Blu-Ray to come out? People have been going to the movies for decades and so helping to guarantee an enjoyable theater-going experience for everyone will be good for all. On the business side, a healthy box office helps make for a healthy industry. On the audience side, humans are undeniably social animals and it’s a whole other experience to laugh when others are laughing, to cry when others are crying, to scream and jump and then pretend like you didn’t.

Last but not least, to simply designate screenings as texting or non-texting will cost little to no money — so why not do it?

Chris Davison is a Los Angeles-based writer/director.