When this suggestion from AMC Theaters first emerged yesterday I didn’t feel terribly inspired to write about it aside from a bit of complaining back and forth on Twitter. The CEO of the major movie house chain had been pondering ways to get more in touch with these tech savvy millennials and let it slip out that he might consider allowing moviegoers to whip out their smart phones and do some texting during the film. What a brilliant plan, eh? I mean, all the kids are doing it these days and those blaring instructions on the screen about shutting your phones down during the movie were probably driving some business away.
Of course, it was a dumb idea. Much like the prospect of having people carrying on loud phone conversations next to you on the plane, the idea of somebody’s brightly lit screen throwing off your night vision while trying to enjoy a film was about as appealing as a turd in a swimming pool. But since nobody wants to stand in the way of “progress” these days I just assumed that this was about to become the new normal. In one of the happier moments of social news, however, it turns out that I was wrong. The outcry on the very social media networks AMC was trying to tap into was swift and decidedly negative. Less than a day later the idea was dumped like the leftover popcorn on the theater floor. (QZ.com)
Mea culpa, begs AMC Theatres. The major cinema chain, whose CEO Adam Aron floated the idea of allowing texting in movie theaters to attract more young people this week, has quickly backpedaled.
All it took were a few solid hours of uninterrupted anger and indignation on on social media. Critiques rolled in by the thousands. Aron’s remarks drew everything from dismay (“If this comes to fruition, I’m done,” one movie-goer said) to outright condemnation (“Dumb, dumb, dumb idea!!!!!”)
In a letter posted on Twitter today, Aron reassured cinema enthusiasts that texting in AMC’s theaters—of which there are roughly 400 in the US, making the chain the second-largest in the country—will be permissible “not today, not tomorrow, and not in the foreseeable future.”
There’s definitely a bright spot in all of this. I don’t expect this to be the national trend, but businesses may actually be starting to pay attention to the reactions of their customers on social media. All too often you see somebody like Adam Aron cook up a harebrained idea which actually makes people miserable and, once in place, they are too stubborn to back down. The quality of service goes down and people simply shrug their shoulders sooner or later and figure that’s just the way of the world. But the movie business is still competitive on a number of fronts. AMC is big, but they have plenty of competitors who would probably have jumped at the chance to tell consumers that they could still enjoy a phone free zone in their theaters, driving business away from AMC.
Unfortunately, such responsiveness only works when there is competition in the market. I don’t expect to see airline travel become any less miserable in the near future because there’s no meaningful competition and little opportunity for anyone new to enter the market to challenge the few outfits running domestic service. Cable television will likely remain horrible in the customer service department, even if the President’s new idea about competition for set-top boxes goes into effect. But in smaller markets where the barriers to entry are lower, businesses still need to listen to consumers. That’s what happened here. And just maybe some of the other market leaders will notice.