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Answering the ring with a beep

Jane Lindholm Dec 1, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Baby Jesus takes on dancing penguins at the box office this weekend. A new movie version of the nativity story will try to knock “Happy Feet” out of the number one spot. Before either movie starts, filmgoers will be subjected to those jaunty messages reminding them to turn off their cell phones. Despite all the warnings, too many people still don’t turn those ringers off. And so the rest of us have to suffer through the buzzes and beeps. But maybe not for too much longer. Marketplace’s Jane Lindholm has more.

JANE LINDHOLM: We’ve all been there. The music swells in a dark theater, the main characters run towards one another across a windswept plain, they embrace, and then . . . . someone’s cell phone goes off.

CAROL PAGE: And then they’ll have the phone call. You can glare. You can tell them to shut up. They’ll just sit there, “Oh hi, I’m in a movie. Yeah, it’s not that good.

That’s Carol Page, the founder of cellmanners.com. She says something needs to be done.

Kendrick McDowell, the vice president of the National Association of Theater Owners — NATO — agrees. He says most customers are turned off by turned-on cell phones.

KENDRICK MCDOWELL: It’s absolutely something the industry talks about. It’s not a crisis. But when it does happen, it’s one of those things that’s infuriating. So they’ll just get angry, or maybe they won’t come back.

Regal Entertainment group owns almost 6,400 movie screens in the U.S. And it thinks it’s found the answer. A new pilot program gives moviegoers a small beeper device, about the size of a pager. If someone’s cell phone goes off in that all important love scene, the beeper monitor presses a silent button to alert management outside. Phone fouler is foiled, and all is well with the world.

Kendrick McDowell says NATO supports the program. Regal has started it in 25 theaters with plans to expand and other chains could follow suit.

Cell-phone etiquette guru Carol Page applauds the program, but she says there may be a consumer concern.

PAGE: Now, I have a visceral reaction to the idea of snitching. I mean, yech, that’s nasty.

Nasty or nice, this holiday season the best present of all may be a theater-going public that’s quieter than a mouse.

In Los Angeles, I’m Jane Lindholm, for Marketplace.

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