Mobile phone use in cinemas has always been a controversial subject, and recently we saw the conversation around this explode thanks to AMC Entertainment. A couple of weeks ago, AMC announced that it was planning on trialling text messaging-friendly cinemas. And although consumer uproar means the cinema chain has now retracted its statement, we believe that AMC has started an important discussion that reflects the expectations of many modern customers. With new expectations from millennials and older customers alike, exhibitors need to evaluate where smartphones sit within today’s cinema experience.
“When you tell a 22 year-old to turn off the phone... they hear: ‘please cut off your left arm above the elbow’" - Adam Aron, CEO of AMC
From a consumer point of view, (and as AMC’s Twitter feed will show), the argument around texting in cinemas is clear – it is absolutely and most definitely a massive social etiquette faux pas. But in today’s connected world, exhibitors do need to consider their attitudes towards smartphones. Adam Aron, CEO of AMC was quoted saying “when you tell a 22 year-old to turn off the phone... they hear: ‘please cut off your left arm above the elbow’. It cannot be denied that the majority of people, and not just millennials, now use their mobile phones more often than ever. So if it’s a matter of ‘when’ mobiles are introduced to the cinema experience, it’s crucial that the approach complements the overall customer experience and doesn’t distract viewers from the film they have paid to see.
While the idea of text messaging doesn’t conform to traditional viewing etiquette, introducing an interactive experience via a mobile phone or as a ‘second screen’ can actually be a really powerful tool that benefits everyone. For example, using mobile to allow viewers to find out location of certain scenes engages them further in the cinema experience, and using mobile to interact in the foyer to book their next visit means better business for exhibitors.
Using mobile this way is a completely different ball game to text messaging and it’s exactly these concepts that we’re building into our global online marketplace, Thunderstorm. We’re already working with partners whose technology can introduce the use of mobile phones into the theatre in a number of different ways, for example:
CinemaConversations uses social media to drive audience engagement, with shared Twitter and Instagram experiences in the cinema lobby;
iPlateia uses proprietary sound recognition to bring promotional activity to the second screen, where exhibitors can send vouchers, link advertising campaigns, as well as send polls and quizzes directly to the customer’s mobile phone.
Cinemas worldwide are working hard to retain and attract customers, but in order to prosper, they do need to think about how they embrace smartphones in the same way that other industries have. We can already see mobile technology evolving in the fashion world and in the home when watching your favourite TV shows, so why not in the cinema?
Every customer needs to be respected and regarded in the decisions that exhibitors make - and AMC has demonstrated exactly that by retracting its statement. The cinema is the home of entertainment, where audiences come to enjoy the latest films in an immersive and one-of-a-kind experience. And while mobile phones in cinemas have previously been perceived as a hindrance, they do have the potential to create something really great for exhibitors and viewers in the future.