Need more proof of mobile's impact? Look to AMC CEO's statements

The CEO publicly said that he wanted to allow texting and other mobile interactions during films. That's how powerful the idea of mobile has become.

Film reel with movie ticket    87483259
Credit: Thinkstock

It's become almost a cliché to say that mobile is having a seismic impact on all of technology and that no vertical right now is feeling it more than retail. But every now and then, an example illustrates what a complete reversal in thinking mobile is causing.

Take recent comments from the CEO of movie theater chain AMC Entertainment. In an attempt to get younger people back into movie theaters, Adam Aron told Variety that he wants to reverse a long-held position and welcome mobile devices. To say that this is industry heresy is an understatement.

"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.' You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life," Aron said. When asked if he would simply make certain areas of a theater texting-friendly, he said, "That’s one possibility. What may be more likely is we take specific auditoriums and make them more texting-friendly."

An argument can be made that movie theaters have run their course and that live-streamed and DVD videos will make them follow video rental shops and drive-in movies into oblivion. The cost comparison certainly lends credence to that argument.

The counter-argument for movie theaters surviving has been made on the grounds that they are social settings — that sharing a movie-viewing experience is best done with friends. It's a weak case, though; watching a streamed film with friends delivers the same thing at a fraction of the cost, far less hassle — and probably with no dried gum underfoot.

Aron's idea is to bring digital social into his theaters. But because mobile usually meets resistance from the people it could displace, Aron got slapped with a tenplex of naysayers, forcing him to quickly back off. On Friday, the chain did a full 180.

A mobile-friendly policy? Aron's new statement said, "Unlike the many AMC advancements that you have applauded, we have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want. In this age of social media, we get feedback from you almost instantaneously and as such, we are constantly listening. Accordingly, just as instantaneously, this is an idea that we have relegated to the cutting room floor. With your advice in hand, there will be no texting allowed in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future."

And with that statement, Aron sealed his company's doom, at least insofar as its revenue is overwhelmingly tied to getting people to sit in darkened theaters. It's an important mobile case study. The CEO correctly pointed out that cutting off mobile use is akin to cutting off the left arm of many of his customers. And yet the ban continues.

Having designated texting areas in theaters seems like a reasonable compromise, but it's an idea that's dead for now.

Thank goodness that retail's initial resistance to mobile — and there absolutely was resistance, including from a chain that wanted to kill Wi-Fi to make mobile in-store less cost-effective — was very brief.

So when your bosses start saying that mobile payment or some other form of mobile integration will never take hold, say that AMC Theatres almost allowed texting during films. It could be a real argument-ender, especially if the company tanks in the next few years.

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