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The Agony of ‘Da Seat’

January 2, 2013

Posted in: News

I’m done with movie theaters.

In my opinion, there is no better example of an industry that is tone deaf to customers than that of the movie operators. I came to this conclusion during the recent Thanksgiving weekend, which is traditionally a huge weekend for the movie business. You might have thought that the theaters would have been staffed up and prepared for the larger-than-usual crowds.

You’d be wrong.

At least that was the case with the AMC Columbia 14 cinemas at The Mall in Columbia. On the Saturday night following the turkey holiday, we decided to go see “Lincoln.” Anticipating that the theater would be crowded, we purchased our tickets in advance online. We were to retrieve the tickets at the automated kiosks upon arrival.

When we got to the multiplex, only one of the five machines was working; the other four were out of order. The line for the remaining machine rivaled that of the regular box office window.

At one point, an employee stepped just outside the theater doors with a microphone and mumbled some instructions, but no one standing in line with me understood a word he said. It was similar to those announcements you hear on a New York subway; eventually, someone in line figured out that he was trying to tell us that the theater had opened another ticket window inside.

After finally getting our tickets, we decided to grab some popcorn before heading to our seats. Count me among those who generally bristle at paying six bucks for a bag of popcorn that should cost about eighty cents to make, but I get the economics. When a movie theater shows a first run film like “Lincoln,” for the first month or so after the release, its take of the ticket revenue is usually less than 20%; in some cases, with a blockbuster movie, the percentage can actually be zero for the first week. That means the theater owner has to recapture his costs somewhere. Popcorn is an easy mark.

Still, it only adds insult to injury when I have to stand in line for 15 minutes just for the privilege of buying an overpriced snack. It isn’t like popcorn needs a lot of prep time.

Then there are the actual theater seats. In case you hadn’t heard, movie theater seats are literally Petri dishes of bacteria. In 2011, the television show “Good Morning America” took samples from seats in a variety of public locations and sent them to Dr. Philip Tierno, the director of microbiology and immunology at New York University. The seat sample sources included subway car seats, rental car seats and even toilet seats.

The worst seat they sampled was from a movie theater. “There was staph on a movie theater seat, which can cause devastating infections.”

Eeeecccch.

And, as if the aforementioned reasons weren’t enough, there are the commercials. If you have any expectation of getting a decent seat for a first run movie, you need to arrive at the theater at least 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start of the film. This means you’ll be part of a captive audience for about 20 minutes of commercials.

I’m not talking about movie previews — those are at least entertaining. I’m referring to pure, unadulterated commercial messages.

So I’m done. No more AMC. No more Regal. No more Cinemark. No more disgusting seats.

I realize that this means I will no longer be among the first to see a hit movie and participate in the discussions in the office or on Facebook. That’s a small price to pay. I’ll wait until they are released online and watch them in the comfort of my family room, where the popcorn is cheap, the seats are relatively clean and there are no commercials.

I can enjoy a glass of wine and even pause the action for bathroom breaks.

Besides, I doubt it will be all that long before you’ll be able to pay a premium price to download a first run movie at home. Even if the studios charge the same price as the theaters, it’ll be worth it.

Dennis Lane co-hosts “and then there’s that… ,” a biweekly local news podcast on hocomojo.com and blogs about stuff around here at wordbones.com.

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