Thursday, July 18, 2019

A useful, under-utilized service

One of the worst things about running late for a movie is that you don’t know how late you actually are. You can tell the number of minutes you’re late on your watch (or really, your phone), but you don’t know how those number of minutes translate to a countdown to the movie’s starting time. Oh, if you’ve been to this theater before, you usually have a good idea how many trailers they play, how much buffer you have between the listed start time of the movie and its actual start. In fact, if the theater is really consistent, you can time it down to the minute.

But what if they aren’t, and what if you can’t?

You never know when some zealous theater employee might start the ads and trailers a few minutes early, or if this is the time when not all the advertisers paid their monthly fees, leading to fewer ads. There are always going to be uncertainties.

Well, my local arthouse theater has removed the uncertainties.

Cinema Nova in Carlton has installed a feature next to the snack bar line – which is also where they sell most of the tickets these days – that shows you a running feed of the upcoming movies and their start times, with a countdown in minutes to when the ads start, and to when the feature itself starts. As in the picture I’ve included above.

It's the perfect way to calm the nerves of a prospective audient, to let them know they do, in fact, have time to buy that popcorn and that drink. That makes it a particularly shrewd movie by the theater, one that benefits both parties. The prospective audient can stay in that line without missing the start of the movie, and the theater can get the money the prospective audient might not have spent on that popcorn and that drink if they thought they were going to be late.

The part that didn’t maybe seem necessary, and therefore is just a mensch move on the part of the theater, is the countdown to when the ads start. (Or, “session,” in the language of this particular screen.) If you happen to be a theatergoer who does not believe your experience is complete if you’ve missed the ads, now you don’t have to. If you’d rather see an ad for a cell phone company and a car commercial than get a bag of M&M’s, Cinema Nova respects that choice.

It came in especially handy on Wednesday night when I went to see Hail Satan?, one of my favorite movies of the year so far, which I may write about at length on another day (and will certainly be reviewing, so check to the right to see if that link is already up). I got to the top of the escalator and was frankly shocked to see about 15 people in line in front of me, with my session time only one minute from starting. Usually there are two or three people at most.

For the health of the theater, I rejoiced, but for my own prospects of getting in to Hail Satan? on time, I fretted. For about three seconds, until I remembered this screen, which tells you exactly how long you have to get that popcorn or drink – or, in my case, my actual ticket. By the time I got to the front of the line, there were still at least five minutes left before the feature started.

I probably should have rewarded them by buying a popcorn and a drink.

I’m now wondering why more theaters don’t do this – or, in fact, any other theaters. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this type of thing, but it’s so simple that any theater should consider it as a way to improve its customer service. And if there is not one single focal point like there is at Cinema Nova, they could easily post it on a big board somewhere in the lobby, almost like one of those old train schedules at Grand Central Station, apprising you of where you stand vis-a-vis the train's departure.

We’re all late sometimes. Cinema Nova allows us not to suffer the consequences by converting the hypothetical to the actual.


Chris said...

What a useful idea to calm the nerves of the cinema goers though the advertisers might disagree? As the system kind of encourages you to skip the ads entirely and spend that time buying snacks.

Derek Armstrong said...

Totally true Chris. My guess is that the advertisers are not privy to it. Nowhere in their contract does it stipulate "And please do not include a video display in the lobby that stipulates what time to enter the theater if you don't want to see the ads." Though maybe it should!