D.L. Stewart: Are two screens better than one?

Addressing concerns that its customers often are forced to sit in dark theaters and endure two or more hours without being able to use their smartphones, tablets or other electronic do-dads, the movie industry has previewed its latest coming attraction:

Instead of showing a reminder for audiences to turn off their cellphones, they’re considering ENCOURAGING them to use their do-dads during the movie.

Patrons using cellphones during movies is nothing new, of course, although the only ones who do that are parents calling home to check with the babysitter or people in line for organ transplants. But now some movie executives envision a day when anyone and everyone will light up movie theaters with their gadgets, both before and during the feature film.

The concept is called the “second-screen experience” and is described as “using another device to enhance the main attraction.” Apparently the second-screen experience already is popular at other forms of entertainment, such as baseball games, where fans use it to keep from dozing off while the pitcher decides whether or not to throw the ball and the batter takes 40 or 50 warmup swings before fouling off 60 or 70 pitches.

In movie theaters, audiences could use their phones and tablets for second-screen content including behind-the-scenes looks, subtitles and more interactive features, such as polls and games. This, according to one movie industry executive, would bring “social media to the next level.”

“We believe that movies, by definition, are a social experience,” said Cliff Marks, president of sales and marketing for National CineMedia, which is producing pre-movie, second-screen content.

Some people might argue that movies, by definition, aren’t really a social experience; that they’re a shut up because other people are trying to enjoy the film experience.

But movies, like baseball, do have their dull spots. Frequently there are long stretches when no one is being shot, stabbed, blown up or having their carotid artery sucked by vampires. With a second screen, you might be able to replay the last scene in which someone was shot, stabbed or otherwise mutilated. Or maybe you could just tune out the movie entirely and watch a baseball game.

So second-screening may or may not be the greatest idea since the proposal that the bigmouth crammed in the airplane seat next to you should be allowed to blab throughout the entire flight. But not everybody is buying into it .

“That’s an experience other than a movie,” said a dissenting theater operator in Kansas City. “I don’t know what to call that, but it’s not watching a film.

Of course, he’s presuming that the reason people go to movies is to watch a movie.

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