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Gozinsky: Why AMC Theatres’ attempt to engage millennials with texting flopped

For a moment only slightly longer than a movie trailer, it looked as if AMC Theatres were about to be more “buzzing” with millennials — millennials’ phones, that is.

Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Entertainment, which owns the world’s largest movie theater chain recently told Variety magazine that the company considered allowing texting in certain sections of theaters or designating specific theaters for texting to appeal to millennial moviegoers.

After facing serious backlash on social media, AMC tweeted out a letter from Aron assuring customers that allowing texting would not come to fruition. While it was a noble attempt, AMC shouldn’t have isolated those outside of the millennial demographic when putting together its plan. Rather than playing on the technology-addicted stereotype that Aron suggested,  AMC shouldn’t have assumed that the rule would make a world of difference to millennials because many of them will arguably text either way.

With no real consequences and only the pre-movie message of “please silence your phones” to disregard, moviegoers don’t have much to worry about if they want to play Fruit Ninja while previews are rolling. Usually, it is just an unspoken rule of common courtesy that keeps many people from texting during screening time.

By considering allowing people to text, AMC was just following the trend of movie theater chains upgrading screens and sound systems, installing luxury chairs and even serving beer and wine in attempts to differentiate themselves from competition. But this proposal to set the company apart should not have come at the expense of alienating its older customers.

While consumers aged 17 and under contribute the most revenue to the box office and concession sales, according to a 2013 IBISWorld, it is adults aged 40 and over who typically have the highest disposable income of all consumer groups. This means they have the most money to spend on entertainment like movies and are an extremely important customer base to retain.

Because of this income gap, millennials are more likely to choose a platform like Netflix over going to the movies because streaming services can provide the same content to them whenever they please from their computers, phones, tablets and some gaming consoles for the price of $7.99 per month. Millennials may even resort to illegally watching or downloading movies for free off of the Internet instead of actually spending the time and money at the theater.

While it is important that movie theaters attempt to regain some entertainment market share from streaming services that younger customers prefer, the last thing the company can afford is to lose its older and more loyal customer base. This group would have likely slowly evaporated before AMC’s eyes had it gone forward with its proposal to allow texting.

Essentially, it would be great for AMC’s business to be able to appeal to everyone, like a social climber. But leaving behind older customers to pursue a consumer group as unreliable as millennials would have sacrificed one set of customers for the other.

And yet, even though AMC only would have upset more non-texters than excited those who do text during screenings, it is important to take a look at the other side of the issue.

It is not fair for moviegoers to disrespect theater rules and distract others who are paying full ticket price with their brightly-lit screens, vibrating noises and cell phone rings. Mulling through emails and texting friends for a few hours are not worth the waste of ticket money. Though they won’t break the bank, ticket prices have only been rising. Last year’s average ticket price was $8.43, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners, which could definitely add up quickly.

AMC should also consider that phones may not be the most distracting thing in theater. Rather than the devices that they hold, it could be the audience members themselves.

“People do a lot of other things that are very distracting during movies too, like talking, which I think is worse than texting, and eating very loudly,” said Joel Kaplan, an associate dean for professional graduate studies and communications professor in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. “So I’m not sure that it’s as big a deal as people are making out of it.”

While AMC’s attempt at trying to reel in millennials may not be a big deal, working to appeal solely to the demographic is. Millennials are unquestionably the most tech-savvy generation to date, but it would be ignorant to assume that no adults would take advantage of this rule to check email, play games or even text themselves.

Though there is some backlash from traditional customers, the theater chain’s proposal to allow texting during movies may be more welcome in a future where businesses encourage phone use to enhance certain experiences. When that time comes, businesses should be aware and market accordingly — not rely on stereotypes that complicate something as simple as a trip to go see the new Star Wars movie.

Sam Gozinsky is a freshman finance and public relations dual major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at slgozins@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @SamGozinsky.

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