Regal Entertainment Group, the largest U.S. movie theater chain, is arming moviegoers with a new gadget that allows them to call in the ushers and remove unruly audience members with the press of a button.
"," Regal Chief Executive Michael Campbell said at the Reuters Media Summit in New York on Wednesday.
"We had gotten to the point...where we have had people getting into physical battles in theaters. One customer will say to another 'Shut off your cell phone' or 'Shut up'...We've had people assaulted with bats, knives, guns."
Regal is testing devices at 25 of its theater locations, handing them out to frequent customers and may roll it out nationwide in the next year if it proves successful, Campbell said. Regal operates 6,400 screens nationwide.
About the size of a pager, the gadget has four buttons. One alerts theater managers about a disruption in the audience, such as a fight over a cell phone.
A second button gives notice of faulty movie projection, a third button can be pressed if the room temperature is off, and a fourth button, marked "Other" covers any other problem.
The device is part of Regal's efforts to keep fans coming back to the box office by making sure they still enjoy the experience, even as the movie industry faces greater competition from other media, such as the Internet or video games.
"The biggest problem we have is, we don't know when (cell phone disruption) is occurring in (our) theaters until it's too late," Campbell said. "A lot of customers won't say anything; they just will complain on their way out--or in the worst-case scenario, they don't come back."
Moviegoers offered the tracking device tend to be more "mature" audience members and are given a free serving of popcorn for their efforts, he said.
But the bigger problem seems to lie with a wholefrom their cell phones, instant messaging and other devices even as they sit down in a public theater.
"Back when I was a teenager, there was still a reverence...for the moviegoing experience," Campbell said. "You knew when you went in that you weren't supposed to talk, you weren't supposed to disturb anybody."
Today's teenagers, however, believe its fine to "multitask" as they sit in a packed auditorium, Campbell said. "They think they can do everything at the same time and (that) everybody else is going to be OK with that, and it's just not."