From USA Today:
Select moviegoers get tattletale tool
NEW YORK — Movie theaters don't have vice principals or hall monitors to enforce the rules, but they seem headed that way as they step up their battle with a big and growing problem: rude customers.
Major chains are telling managers to monitor audiences more frequently and clamp down on disruptions, including cellphone use, talking and gross littering.
The largest theater owner even is enlisting moviegoers themselves. This week, Regal Entertainment Group will significantly expand a program to give selected patrons wireless devices to anonymously alert the manager of disruptions.
"We have noticed over the years that customer etiquette has become more and more of a problem," says Dick Westerling, Regal's senior vice president of marketing and advertising. "We're doing what we can to provide a friendly environment for all moviegoers."
Summer is the peak time for complaints as kids pack theaters for the season's high-energy adventure and animation flicks.
"I don't believe that this generation of younger folk is as respectful of fellow audience members as previous generations" were, says National Association of Theater Owners President John Fithian. "Maybe that's because I'm getting older. But the sense among our members is that this is a growing issue."
Rudeness isn't limited to kids, though. "Parents who bring really small children into R-rated movies are an annoyance," Fithian says.
Theater owners must act. As HDTV and home theater sales grow, "They have to make it worth people's time to leave home and go to the movie theater," says Research Associates analyst Marla Backer.
The financial toll isn't obvious this year. Box office sales already are up 6%, with an unusually high number of potential blockbusters on tap. Shrek the Third, Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End have set a heady pace ahead of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Live Free or Die Hard, Ratatouille, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Simpsons Movie.
Owners still recall, though, the 2005 box office slump that led many to fear disturbances had done permanent damage.
"There's a subtle structural change going on," Backer says. "Certain people don't go to the movies anymore."
Regal will try to change that this week by introducing its Regal Guest Response System in 114 theaters, up from a test at 13 that began last year. Customers in Regal's loyalty points program will be invited to take a cellphone-size device into the theater. If something pushes their buttons — a disturbance, picture or sound glitch, someone recording the film — they can push one of four buttons to alert the manager.
"We've seen an improvement in the customer etiquette with the implementation of this program," Westerling says. "It addresses these problems on a more routine basis and in a faster manner."