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AMC Theatres decides against allowing texting during movies, citing intense backlash

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Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

AMC Theatres has dropped its plans to experiment with allowing cellphone use during movies, the company announced today, citing the swift and strident negative feedback that AMC received through social media.

"Unlike the many AMC advancements that you have applauded, we have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want," said Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Theatres parent company AMC Entertainment, in a letter posted on Twitter.

"With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres," Aron continued. "Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future."

AMC's about-face comes less than two days after an interview Aron gave to Variety during CinemaCon, an annual trade show for the film industry, in which he said the company was considering the idea of allowing moviegoers to use their phones in theaters. The plan would have been part of efforts by AMC to bring in more customers — particularly millennials, whom Aron characterized as being attached to their smartphones.

"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 cellphone. That's not how they live their life," Aron told Variety. In 2015, the amount of Americans aged 18-24 who went to the movies at least once a month dropped for the fourth year in a row, according to a report published this week by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Aron noted that AMC would have to implement its plan carefully, and ensure that the potential change "doesn't disturb today's audiences." Possible solutions that AMC was considering included revamping theaters to make them more texting-friendly, or cordoning off part of an auditorium as a texting section.

The idea received vehement opposition from moviegoers on social media, as well as individuals within the theater industry such as Tim League, the CEO and co-founder of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The boutique theater chain is famous for strict prohibitions on talking or using phones during movies.

"I just don't believe that this line of experimentation is the right tactic," said League in a statement yesterday. "A firm policy against talking and texting in the cinema is about respect: for the filmmakers and fellow cinephiles of all ages."

Instead, Aron said today, AMC will focus on efforts to "continuously enhance our theatres and systems," with an investment of more than $1 billion in upgrades such as reclining seats and larger screens, including IMAX and Dolby Cinema. The company also has a $1.1 billion acquisition of Carmike Cinemas pending; the deal must be approved by Carmike shareholders and U.S. regulatory agencies.

"When the lights dim, we'll remember your advice that your fellow moviegoers should turn off their phones," said Aron today. You can see his full statement below.

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