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Never Tell Millennials to Turn Off Their Phones, Even in a Movie Theater

A couple watch a big screen outside moviA couple watch a big screen outside movi
If you let them use their cell phones, will they come?Photograph by Frederic J. Brown — AFP/Getty Images

One of the last bastions of phone-free zones, the darkened movie theater, may be about to cave.

The new CEO of AMC Entertainment, the company set to become the nation’s largest chain of movie theaters, says he’s open to the idea of letting people use their smartphones in the movies.

Especially millennials, who he thinks can’t be expected to live a moment, much less the two hours required for a movie, without their phones:

“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,” Adam Aron, the new CEO of AMC Entertainment (AMC), tells Variety. “You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”

And he’s not wrong: A full 87% of young adults (18 to 34) report they never put their smartphones down.

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But Aron cautions that opening up movie theaters to cell phones will have to be done carefully, in a way that doesn’t “disturb” audiences.

One idea? Treat the texters and messagers like smokers, and put them in their own segregated smartphone-friendly section. Or maybe the glued-to-the-small-screen set could get their own separate showtimes?

Smartphone-clutchers in one theater, Luddites, you file in next door.

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But embracing smartphones isn’t going to solve all of the big-screen industry’s woes. Because it’s not just millennials who are going to the theater less and less: Almost a third of Americans didn’t set foot in a movie theater last year. Another 10% saw just one film on the big screen all year (Star Wars, anyone?), likely opting to stay home for more streaming like Netflix instead. Movie theaters have largely been relying on hiking up popcorn and concession rates to pay for some of the declining ticket sales.

Now Aron tells Variety theaters need to up their game “so that millennials go to movie theaters with the same degree of intensity as baby boomers went to movie theaters throughout their lives.”

The question is, if you let millennials bring their little phones to the big screen, will they come?