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Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Is social behavior in cinemas getting worse or are social norms changing? If you polled cinema patrons and asked: "What do you consider to be good or bad behavior at a cinema?" I think you are going to get responses that may surprise you. Unlike the past, when social norms were much more homogeneous, what is considered acceptable behavior today varies widely between demographic groups.

For example, 15 year olds think nothing of using a cell phone, text messaging, or video game playing while in a cinema. They are very adroit at double or triple tasking and truly believe that text messaging while watching a movie is perfectly "normal and good" behavior. Remember, this group has grown up with PCs, cell phones, and iPODS. However, this teen behavior would be annoying, distracting, and certainly considered bad behavior to the thirty-something couple who came to the theatre to "enjoy" the movie.

Accordingly, the 30's couple may find laughing aloud or whispering during the film presentation to be perfectly acceptable behavior, and considered part of the movie-going experience. However, whispering and laughing might be considered very distracting to the senior's group, which also insists the theatre's sound system is too low or too high for their taste anyway.

The worst thing about bad behavior is that those that feel they have been offended don't always take their complaints to management, but express their displeasure by not coming back to the theatre. You also witness this non-confrontational posture when something goes wrong with the movie presentation. People will just sit in their seats and not get up to complain about the out-of-focus or frame image, the lack of sound, or a scope movie being played in flat format.

What can be done? Well, it's up to the theatre's management to set the rules for acceptable in-theatre behavior. Having ushers in the auditoriums - as was the custom years ago - goes a long way toward establishing the kind of behavior that is acceptable in theatres. Additionally, signage and pre-feature notices, i.e. "no cell phones, please" are good, but these work best if backed up with staff presence. With pre/post features, ads, and entertainment becoming meaningful income generators it becomes all the more important that partons feel comfortable in the cinema's surroundings. Of course, this takes more staff, expense and management commitment. Helpful aides, like cell phone signal blockers can be utilized but patrons must be alerted of their use.

In behavior enforcement preemptive measures must be taken. For example, inform boxoffice staff that a patron with a very small child or infant should be discouraged admission (there is nothing worse than a crying baby in a cinema). You can alleviate confrontation within the auditorium by preempting the trouble at the boxoffice.

Setting your cinema's behavior rules takes thought and perseverance but in the long run will be supported by even the most egregious patrons as they know they'll be enjoying a movie free from annoyance and distraction.