Proposal would cut commercials at movie theaters

March 06, 1991|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- "And now a word from our sponsors. . . ."

If Delegate Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George's, has his way, moviegoers may be spared the questionable pleasure of hearing those words within the sanctuary of the cinema.

Mr. Pinsky's bill, debated before the House Economic Matters Committee yesterday, would make Maryland the first state to "draw a line in the sand," as Mr. Pinsky put it, beyond which advertisers may not tread.

The bill would prohibit commercial advertising in movie theaters, unless the advertised product is being sold at the refreshment counter. Coming movie attractions also would be spared the knife.

"The public doesn't like this," Mr. Pinsky said of the growing frequency of commercials before movies. They go to the cinema, he said, "for the value of being able to avoid this kind of crass commercialism."

Mr. Pinsky noted a poll by Walt Disney Studios of its audiences in 10 U.S. markets a year ago. According to the survey, 90 percent of moviegoers did not want to see the commercials. "I am a strong supporter of free speech," he said, "but I think there are some parameters which we can establish to limit commercial advertisements."

Ronald Collins, a Catholic University law professor and founder of the Center for the Study of Commercialism, pointed out that advertising has permeated nearly every aspect of our lives. "We see more than 2,000 advertising messages a day," Mr. Collins said, quoting the trade magazine Advertising Age.

"Our children know the names of tennis shoe companies better than they know the names of U.S. presidents," he said, "let alone the members of this esteemed body."

But Ira C. Cooke, lobbyist for the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Theater Owners, loudly derided the bill as a threat to the foundation of capitalism in America.

"We believe that the free marketplace will dictate whether or not advertising in movie theaters makes sense," said Mr. Cooke, adding that the ads are a much-needed source of revenue.

Scott Cohen, chapter president of the theater owners' group, said, "If the public really disliked it, as sound business people [theater owners] would stop it. If people are that upset, write us, tell us -- we'll probably stop."

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