I am a member of NATO, the National Association of Theater Owners. Occasionally I get news alerts about articles of interest to the industry: new trends, analysis, new technology, etc. Last week, I received a notice regarding an article by Chris Davison of The Wrap proposing his idea of introducing "texting friendly" showings at movie theaters. This same idea was floated at a panel on which I was speaking at CinemaCon. The CEOs of both Regal and IMAX said they were experimenting with the idea. I was horrified then and I remain horrified today with the nonchalance that both Davison and my fellow panelists addressed this issue. Worst of all, Davison's article was forwarded without commentary or position from NATO, as if saying, "hey gang, this is an interesting new idea we all may want to try!" as if it were a new popcorn seasoning salt. Davison closes his article with a final thought "to simply designate screenings as texting or non-texting will cost little to no money -- so why not do it?"
I will tell you why it should not be done.
1) Texting is rude to the film creators. It is a slap in the face to every single creative professional who poured their lives into creating the film. When I am carrying on a mere casual conversation and someone whips out a phone to text while I am talking to them, I am offended. Imagine amplifying that to texting during a film which can take teams of thousands of people years to make. Consider the independent feature parallel. Imagine leveraging every penny you own or worse, going into incredible debt in order to share your creative vision with the public, only to have an audience half-watching while conceiving pithy tweets. Texting is not a passive activity. You have to focus on your phone to text and therefore lose focus on the screen. It is not a question of "might." You WILL at the very least miss nuance and texture of a film by breaking attention to text. More than likely you will miss more than just nuance, but important plot points. Ask Christopher Nolan if he would mind if you text during the opening weekend of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I can almost guarantee you he would opt to eject every last texter if given the chance. Pay respect to the on-screen and behind-the-scenes artists who create movies. Turn off your phone and lose yourself in the movie.
2) The notion that all teenagers and twenty-somethings can't sit two hours without texting is condescending. In reading the feedback after my debate regarding in-theater texting at Cinemacon, my favorite comments were those from the alleged "texting generation" who were offended by the idea that they were being lumped in with the masses. Real movie fans today are the same now as they were in the '20s, the '70s and any generation. They want great theatrical presentation, and they want to lose themselves in the movie. This is the very crux of our industry. Real movie fans can, and actively want to, shut off their devices for two hours to watch a movie regardless of how old they are. If we as an industry cater to the notion that texting and talking during a movie is condoned if not encouraged, then we disgust our true patrons, the real movie fans. We will take short term gains by thinking ourselves cool and progressive by allowing texting, but in the end will erode our loyal customer base.
3) Texting is rude to everyone around you. Even if, as Chris Davison proposes, we designate theaters as "texting friendly," there will be people in the movie who are real movie fans who want to just watch the show without distraction. If the non-texting shows are sold out, someone may opt for the texting show. People buy tickets for a group and in that group there may happen to be real movie fans. Folks may inadvertently buy tickets on Fandango or other online sources where the "texting friendly" nature of the show is missing or not prominent. By introducing screenings where people are free to text during the movie, you will be creating unhappy customers at every single session. It really boils down to the undeniable fact that texting in a movie theater is rude, selfish, and adversely affects everyone within view of your glowing device.
The only answer to this debate is taking a hard line. Texting and talking can not be allowed in movie theaters. Our spaces are sacred spaces for movie fans. Chris Davison, you are wrong. NATO, you should add commentary to Davison's article before blasting to the entire membership. You do this for the trend in shrinking VOD/theatrical windows. To me, the leniency towards talking and texting is a greater threat to our industry.
Tim League - Founder CEO Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas