Moviegoers pay the price for those ads at the theater

August 27, 2005|By Gregory Kane

MY, HOW the movie-going experience has changed since I trolled theaters on Pennsylvania Avenue nearly every weekend when I was a wee lad.

I don't know how she did it, but Ruth Katherine Floyd Kane would somehow come up with the cash to send me and my siblings to the movies, thus getting her annoying, crumb-snatching brood out from under her feet for at least a few hours. Some Saturdays, we'd be at the Regent. On other Saturdays, we'd be at the Carver or the Royal.

My favorite was the New Albert, which specialized in horror flicks. It was there that I got my first glimpse of films like House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts and The Creature Who Wants to Eat Your Dog.

OK, so you got me. I made that last one up.

I think.

But these days we get a horror show with every feature, in the form of pre-movie commercials. Pay your $9.50 these days, and you're guaranteed to hear four dimwits singing "Wanta Fanta. Wanta Fanta. Wanta Fanta, Wanta Fanta" before the credits of the feature start rolling.

No, I don't want any danged Fanta. I want what I paid my $9.50 for: a movie without commercials.

The baby boomers among you might remember how parents explained why television had commercials and movies didn't. Those commercials, we were told, paid for the television shows that were on the air. Movies were different. Moviegoers paid the freight.

So now we're still paying the freight - and theater chains are giving us commercials too?

Is it just me, or has some unwritten contract been broken here?

Here's what I was subjected to after paying $6.50 for the 5:10 p.m. matinee showing of Hustle and Flow at the Loews cineplex in White Marsh, which is my favorite, mainly because there's a Barnes & Noble bookstore nearby.

At 5:10:10, that blasted "Wanta Fanta" commercial ran for 55 seconds.

That was followed by a blurb for Cingular, then one for an on-line movie ticket company.

Then came a commercial for Ape to Man, a television show that ran on the History Channel.

Then the folks at Verizon got in their two cents' worth.

Then came a commercial for Sony, followed by a public service announcement for the Air National Guard and then a spot for an Oral B toothbrush.

The total elapsed time was five minutes and 15 seconds. Except for the Air National Guard public service announcement, this was five minutes and 15 seconds of my life wasted.

And it was 315 seconds that the owners of the Loews chain spent shooting themselves in the feet. You have to ask who's running Loews and whether or not these folks can do simple math.

This past month, I ordered six movies I didn't see when they hit theaters on pay-per-view. They cost $3.99 a pop. I saved 15 bucks by passing on the Loews matinee price of $6.50. Make it $33 saved if I had bought tickets for the non-matinee price of $9.50.

And that doesn't take into account the cost of gas. A round trip to White Marsh from my house is about 28 miles. Assuming my beat-up 1991 Honda Accord gets about 25 miles per gallon in the city, I saved about another three dollars per trip.

So that's anywhere from $36 to $54 I've saved just by staying at home and ordering pay-per-view. But most importantly, I didn't have to sit through "Wanta Fanta" to watch the movies I ordered.

You'd think cineplex owners would realize this and slow their roll on the pre-feature commercials. You'd think they'd be only too willing to answer questions from disgruntled customers.

If you think that, you'd think wrong.

I called the flack for Loews and was given the guy's e-mail address. I sent him a series of comments about this low-down, double-crossing, dirty-dealing practice of theater chains slipping commercials in on customers who are trying to watch movies.

One comment was basically trying to tell these folks that movie-lovers come out ahead by ordering pay-per-view at home rather than going to theaters.

Another asked just how much movie chains are making from these commercials.

A third query hinted that movie chains might be sowing the seeds of their own destruction by showing commercials promoting their main competition: television.

No answer to the e-mail - which was sent eight days ago - has arrived. I called the flack yesterday and got the message that he "was busy."

Probably counting the bucks Loews makes from commercials, no doubt.

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