AMC Theatres recently admitted that the company was considering the idea of allowing Millennials to use their phones in their movie theatres and it caught a lot of backlash. Just days after CEO Adam Aron discussed the possibility, the company said they had abandoned the idea based on negative reaction from customers. Aron was criticized for not really understanding the age group he was trying to attract when he said:
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 cell phone. That’s not how they live their life.
Many felt that was not an accurate depiction of Millennials and “allowing texting” missed the mark completely. Despite AMC’s misunderstanding of how and why they use technology, Aron’s idea wasn’t actually that bad.
Millennials have been exposed to more technology at a younger age than any other generation before them. It’s only natural that it has become part of who they are and how they interact. AMC’s idea focused only on texting, sparking outrage from the general public who assumed Millennials would use this opportunity to text in the middle of a movie. A survey about their smartphone usage showed that the top response (67%) was to send messages, proving AMC right about the generation’s habits. However, they seemed to completely miss that the survey’s third overall response (33%) was updating social media.
Instead of not paying attention, as many assumed would happen, Millennials use technology to enhance their experiences and share moments in their life. They surely would message their friends in the theatre to tell them about the movie, but many of them would take to social media in order to talk about the movie with the online world. Millennials use social media to enhance all sorts of live events, like sporting events, concerts, and television shows, but what if going to the movie theatre was added to this list? AMC missed a huge opportunity here:
Most millennials (71%) also think that tweeting about an event as they’re experiencing it makes it more fun. Many (70%) enjoy reading Tweets while tracking a live event on television, from the Oscars to the Olympics, and some (67%) say they would follow or contribute to a hashtag related to these events.
Social media produces digestible data for companies to read, as they attempt to learn what their customers like and don’t like. Just from The Walking Dead television show, Nielson was able to track 292,500 Emotional Reactions out of 932,308 total tweets during the season 6 finale. From there, they were able to break down those reactions into categories based on the sentiments of tweets to see what people felt about the episode. Live tweeting also provides viewers with a group of people they can share their opinions with when they would normally just be sitting alone in the dark. For Millennials, the experience is all about the advancing the conversation.
Now imagine if AMC Theatres was able to tap into that type of experience, creating an event-like atmosphere, starting a hashtag following, tracking the data, and increasing the hype surrounding a movie and the accompanying viewing party. Turning a movie into a live event would make it a much more attractive experience to Millennials, who can then document that experience through social media, and generate more interest.
Unfortunately, many who led the opposition belonged to older generations who don’t understand Millennials. Baby Boomers have been instilling their values and ideals on their younger counterparts for years, and when Millennials are not able to live up to certain standards, they are viewed as failures. Generation Y has been called selfish, greedy, self-absorbed, and dozens of other negative adjectives since the phrase “Millennials” was first uttered. It’s not that Millennials can’t possibly take the time to put their phones down for a two-hour movie, it’s just that they interact with their media differently than past generations could when they were the same age.
It’s easy to point to a high reliance of technology and declare it as wrong, but as comedian Louie CK proves in his hit television show Louie, things are not always as they seem. In the Season 5 episode “Sleepover” Louie tries to take his daughter’s phone away from her when he sees her texting during a play, believing that she wasn’t paying attention, and the interaction that follows perfectly represents the generational divide that exists:
Lily: I wasn’t texting.
Louie: I saw you! I saw you texting!
Lily: No, you saw me reading about the play.
Louie: Well, no, how do you appreciate a thing and google it at the same time? That’s no way to live a life. That’s an insult to the actors to do that.
Lily: Because it was a great play and I wanted to know more about it while I was watching it. Do you even know anything about the play?
Louie: Yeah. It’s a 1960s thing with a–
Lily: Did you know that this play was banned in Russia and in Israel? Did you know that after he wrote it, Shelby thought about killing himself? Did you know that he rewrote the ending ’cause he was afraid that it would cause other depressed people to kill themselves? Don’t you wonder what that original ending was?
Louie: But you missed the one th–When the kid said at thing, you missed it.
Lily: No, I didn’t. He said, “I wish I were dead. That’s the truest thing I know.” It was really sad, and it was beautiful. I didn’t cry like you ’cause I’m not a baby. But just because I can appreciate something on two levels doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to have my phone.
As Lily tells her father, younger generations use their smartphones for much more than just texting with their friends and not paying attention. Smartphones help make connections and improve experiences, but they can also enhance the content as well. AMC missed the mark when they decided that Millennials should not be allowed to “text” in movie theatres because, as Louie shows, that’s not how they would use technology in that situation.
Without any real grasp of the implications for having phones in a movie theatre, AMC allowed the angry masses to put down a great idea for the wrong reasons before it had a chance to blossom.