League issued his criticism on Cinemacon’s final day on Thursday, a day after Aron made the suggestion. Aron has been head of AMC for the less than three months, and League noted that he had formerly served as a hotel executive.
“First off, I’d like to say that I am very excited for Adam Aron to be taking the helm at AMC,” League said. “I am a fan of the Starwood Hotel and Resort brand and the customer experience that his former company consistently delivers. Bringing that leadership focus to our industry will undoubtedly yield positive results and drive healthy, innovative competition.”
“That said, I disagree with his statements on texting in a movie theater,” League added. “Innovation in this direction could seriously hurt our industry.”
League said that allowing texting would hurt relationships with directors and producers, saying that cinemas have “an unwritten obligation” to present their films in the best possible way: on a big screen with big sound and a bright picture in a silent, dark room.
“You can only be immersed in a story if you are focused on it,” he added. “If while watching a film you are intermittently checking your email, posting on social media, chatting with friends, etc., there is no way you are fully engaged in the story on screen. I find that to be disrespectful to the creators, those who make the very existence of cinema possible.”
League also blasted Aron for generalizing about millennials, pointing to Aron’s comment: “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.”
“Twenty-two-year-olds aren’t alone; heavy cell phone use is far more widespread,” League said. “Today, 68% of U.S. adults have a smartphone, a staggering increase from 35% just five years ago. I spend a great deal of my life on my phone, too. I check news, social media and email obsessively. “
League said that doing so isn’t just a millennial behavior, but rather a global attention span epidemic.
“Regardless of your age, turning off your phone and focusing on a good movie is much-needed therapy. This time of focus in a darkened room is core to the experience of cinema,” he said. “Only with this focus can you lose yourself completely in the story and really fall into the magic spell of the movies.”
League said he would not object to “second screen” experimentation with regards to alternative content, gaming and interactive screenings.
“But when it comes to our core business, creating a special environment for our customers to experience new stories for the first time, there is absolutely no place for the distraction of a lit phone screen,” he added.
League said his Alamo Drafthouse chain is actively engaged in trying to make sure cinema remains a compelling destination for young people, and he agreed with Aron that this should be a focus for the whole industry.
“I just don’t believe that this line of experimentation is the right tactic,” League concluded. “A firm policy against talking and texting in the cinema is about respect: for the filmmakers and fellow cinephiles of all ages. Outside of this issue, however, I look forward to being challenged and inspired by what innovations and enhancements Adam Aron brings to the cinema experience.”