Second Screen Experience: Nail in coffin for serious movie-goers?

by Glenn Lovell

That death knell you hear is for weekend movie-going as we once knew it. Soon we’ll be recalling wistfully, “Remember back when? Remember when people watched reverentially as images danced magically across the screen.”

If marketing honchos have their way, the bane of every serious moviegoer’s existence, the illuminated cell phone, will be not only welcomed in theaters, it will be encouraged, a required tool for getting the most out of the big-screen experience.

And when this happens, studio execs who have been lamenting the steady decline in attendance can bid adios to what remains of their slowly disappearing audience. Here, finally, will be the excuse disenchanted film-goers needed to park permanently in front of the home-entertainment system.

Word arrived last week that the so-called “second-screen experience” is on its way.


Future … or Pandora’s Box?

According to a piece published in the business section of the San Francisco Chronicle, National CineMedia (NCM) is“working on ways to make smartphones, tablets and even built-in screens in seats a key part of the experience both before the movie and … during the movie.”

That’s right, if this comes to pass, those annoying preshow programs ‒ Ford and Pepsi commercials, behind-the-scenes promos for cable TV series ‒ will, with the help of your Shazam app, become interactive games.

And all you’ll need to play along is your cell phone or iPad.

Yes, that very cell phone you’ve been told to mute and stow upon entering the theater.

Obviously this invitation will be manna for those who never got the message that cell phones are a bloody distraction for those of us who come to watch the movie ‒ and only the movie. These clueless clowns will be able to text away with not only impunity but the blessing of theater management.

National CineMedia, the culprit behind this, specializes in something we all hate: those FirstLook movie ads or what NCM euphemistically calls “integrated brand experiences.” NCM, licking its chops, envisions a whole new revenue delivery system. But lest we become alarmed the company assures us that it’s only condoning cell phones during the preshow portion of the program.

Yeah, sure. Pardon me if I’m a tad skeptical. NCM won’t stop with the promotional portion of the program; it’s got its eye on bigger fish and knows that cell-phone junkies are easily enticed to keep tapping away during the feature attraction. The company lets slip its true intentions when it argues that “movies, by definition, are a social experience” that can only be fully experienced with the aid of social media.

Movies are meant to be a social experience ‒ one in which a large gathering of people interact respectfully with one another and the screen. There has always been a pact between filmmaker and film-goer. Once you introduce ‒ and condone ‒ the use of mobile devices that only some in the audience approve, you break that pact and leave diehard movie-goers racing, no, screaming for the nearest exit.

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3 Responses to “Second Screen Experience: Nail in coffin for serious movie-goers?”

  1. Dan Heaton Says:

    Yikes. I’ll be avoiding any theaters that offer this type of experience. There are bound to be some that stick to the basics, right?


  2. thinman Says:

    The movie theater is getting to be my last resort for undisturbed viewing. At home I increasingly glance at my phone to check out work emails, obscure references I am reminded of by the movie I am watching or text messages. Last month I had to ask a young woman at Pacific Film Archive to turn off her phone when I realized after a few minutes that she wasn’t handling an emergency but just scrolling through her Facebook updates! She looked so surprised that this could be a hindrance to others that I felt sorry for her.

    What next, phone calls on a plane? 🙂


    • Glenn Lovell Says:

      I have a strict no-phones policy in my classes at De Anza College — students aren’t even allowed to take them out and check time.

      As you know, when a cell phone comes out it illuminates several seats and pulls your neighbor out of the movie.

      I can’t control the viewing experience at AMC Mercado 20, but I can in my screening room, where I stress screening-room etiquette as well as film theory.

      I’ve been known to yell across theater, “Please put that cell phone away!”

      It does the trick.


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