The Theater’s Alive With the Sound of Chewing

When it comes to punishing customers, movie theater owners are in the same league as airlines. Just as airline CEO’s rarely travel commercial, theater CEO’s evidently never attend a matinee.

And there lies the explanation for the repeated failure of theater owners to understand anything about their customer base. The list of management missteps includes dividing large theaters into very small “multiplexes,” where the size of the screen was only a bit larger than what families used to watch home movies.

Followed by continually increasing ticket prices and then complaining how yearly movie attendance continues to decline. And eliminating ushers and wondering why people didn’t want to buy a movie ticket to eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation.

The only positive development in the last 40 years is the cup holder armrest. Everything else – larger screens, more legroom, reclining seats – are efforts to undo the damage caused by earlier bad decisions.

Adults want a large screen, comfortable seat and no distractions. If management attended movies it would know just before the movie begins seniors make one last trip to the bathroom and then the lights go down.

The idea behind darkening the interior is not to make it harder for gunmen to draw a bead on the audience – it’s to reduce distractions.

So why does theater management believe the secret to success is offering more distraction?

In the case of AMC Theaters it could be the CEO’s background. Adam Aron came from Starwood Hotels. Their movie business consisted of discovering the maximum the company could charge for cable pornography, while the customer’s movie watching experience was subject to, how shall I put this, self-imposed distractions.

Aron’s first distraction was to allow texting in “select” theaters. This is like encouraging smoking in “select” rows. Aron barely had time to bask in the glow from his announcement before AMC’s customer base rose up in revolt. He quickly withdrew the proposal, but at the time I wrote: “One can only wonder, with more than a little apprehension, what Aron’s next bright idea – no pun intended – will be.”

Now we know.

Aron’s latest innovation makes Donald Trump’s foreign policy look like it was designed by Bismark. This is fitting, since one of the centerpieces is “the Bavarian Beast.” The New York Times describes it as “a pound-and-a-half salted pretzel the size of a steering wheel.”

It’s part of Aron’s strategy to turn AMC into a food court that also to shows movies.

Patrons will long for the days when the rustle of cellophane and the occasional box of M&M’s hitting the floor were the worst annoyances.

If Aron gets his way patrons will be chowing down “a juicy chicken sandwich with waffles as buns” and “a new jalapeno-flavored Southwestern dog that’s to die for.” Lip-smacking at AMC will no longer be a descriptive term for flavor, it will be a movie-watching reality.

What he calls “Feature Fare” includes cheeseburger sliders, stone-fired pizza, chili dogs, salami bites, chicken tenders, three new popcorn flavors and hot and cold running bicarbonate.

Think of it this way. If you believe riding in American Airlines economy class during mealtime is stinky, wait until you go to the movies! I’ll bet you can hardly wait to sit next to a gourmand chowing down on an onion-chili-cheese hotdog or savoring his salami bites.

And God help us if Aron adds frijoles to the menu.

Theater management had to set movie sound systems on “stun” to overcome the clueless fools that talk during the feature. Are they going to turn the A/C up to “hurricane” to disperse odors?

It’s tough enough to eat on a plane when the lights are on, what’s it going to be like at AMC in the dark? How much of the “Bavarian Beast” is going to wind up in your lap? People won’t be wearing ponchos to keep dry in the rain, they’ll be wearing ponchos to stay clean at the movies.

And what about trash? Is the satisfied diner going to babysit meal debris until the feature is over? Heck no, he’s either going to disturb you once as he gets up to go to the garbage can and again on the return, or he’ll simply dump all the trash on the floor.

Which brings up another question: How does Aron intend to clean the theater between meals? It’s going to look like the decontamination scene in the movie “Arrival.”

It was bad enough when there was so much gum on the floor of a theater your shoes felt like magnetic boots. The day I sit in jalapeno dog droppings is the day AMC loses me as a customer, but gets my cleaning bill.

Ruining the Movies One Text at a Time

It must have been the result of what Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr derisively terms a “nationwide search.” AMC Theatres was looking for a new CEO and it hired Adam Aron. He’s not on the job three months before Aron unveils a new marketing strategy: Attracting 22–year–olds by driving off everyone aged 35 and over.

Texting in Movies Light in FaceIn an interview with Variety, Aron 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.’”

By the same token, when theatre management says it will allow texting in “selected theatres” people over 35 hear, “You don’t want my money anymore.”

Thirty percent of ticket sales are made to customers between the ages of 12 and 24, while 28 percent of movie patrons are between the ages of 45 and 64. Driving away 28 percent of your customers so you can add to an existing 30 percent doesn’t make sense from a marketing standpoint.

Aron lacks a cinema background and it shows. His last job was running Starwood Hotels. The movie business there consists of seeing how much the company charge for cable pornography, while the customer’s movie watching experience is subject to, how shall I say it, a number of self–imposed distractions.

It’s a hands–on experience all right, but not a model management can apply to larger venues.

The only experience the vast majority of moviegoers want takes place on the big screen. Aron’s bright idea was to allow ticket–buyers (one can’t call them movie fans, because that implies they watch the movie) to text in “selected” theatres. Specifically, screens showing a feature attracting an audience with a mean I.Q. of 50.

Allowing a little bit of texting is like agreeing to become partially pregnant. Management says, “texting allowed in select theatres” while cell phone addicts only hear “texting allowed.” Original sin means it’s impossible to relax standards just a little.

Ask any contemporary service church pastor how well allowing “casual clothing” in the sanctuary has worked out. They expected slacks and polo shirts and what they got was outfits suitable for mowing the lawn.

Once the cellphone gets a pixel or two under the edge of the tent the rest of the unsocial, social media mob is sure to follow.

I have a sneaking suspicion Aron is much like the DC Metro board members who never rode the subway. One wonders how often he’s attended a movie at an AMC theatre?

Two things happen just before the feature begins: Seniors get up and make one last trip to the bathroom before the show starts, and then the lights go down. The idea behind darkening the interior is not to make it harder for gunmen to draw a bead on the audience — it’s to reduce distractions. Concentrating on the movie is easier when you can’t see your neighbor scratch himself out of the corner of your eye.

The second concentration aid is setting sound system volume on “stun.” After cost, the number one complaint of movie watchers is clueless loudmouths talking during the feature. Before the Age of High Self–Esteem and the $15 minimum wage there were employees called “ushers.” If people were talking or otherwise distracting audience members, the usher would shine a flashlight on them and the behavior would stop. Community standards gave a teenager the power to single–handedly control a packed house.

Since there are now no ushers or standards, management tries to drown out the verbal diarrhea demographic.

For normal people the entire cinema experience is built around reducing distractions, while Aron tried to add a new one.

Customers quickly realized there was no way, short of a flash grenade, to overpower the light from a cellphone. AMC’s social media accounts were soon flooded with negative feedback from patrons opposed to the idea.

A chastened Aron replied on Twitter, “NO TEXTING AT AMC. Won’t happen. You spoke. We listened. Quickly, that idea has been sent to the cutting room floor.”

One can only wonder, with more than a little apprehension, what Aron’s next bright idea — no pun intended — will be.