Pre-movie ads rip off theatergoers, suits claim

Right fucking on:

    How much is three to four minutes of your time worth -- especially when you're waiting for the latest "Lord of the Rings" movie to start? That question was posed in two lawsuits filed Tuesday against movie theaters that claim in their ads they'll show movies at a certain time, but, instead, show on-screen commercials at the advertised time, delaying the movie's start.

    Theaters are committing consumer fraud when they claim in advertising that a movie starts at a certain time but it really starts a few minutes later because of the ads, said Mark Weinberg, a Chicago attorney who filed the two suits. "They deceive you into thinking a movie starts on time in order to create a captive audience," Weinberg said. "People are actually paying good money to watch commercials." [...]

    The lawsuits were filed in Cook County Circuit Court. One is against the Downers Grove company Classic Cinemas and the other against New York-based Loews Cineplex Entertainment, which also operates theaters here. The suits argue that the practice of showing the ads constitutes fraud, false advertising and breach of contract. [...]

    Both suits ask for damages of no more than $75 per person. More important, the attorneys who filed them say, is that their clients want the commercials dropped -- or they want ads to state the time a movie actually begins, not just when the commercials begin to roll.

    "We just want the practice to stop, or we want the company to give notice," Weinberg said.

    The suits don't take issue with movie previews. That's because moviegoers have come to expect those trailers "as a time-honored part of the moviegoing experience," Weinberg said. [...]

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34 Responses:

  1. soul4rent says:

    Or, like any other human with evolved brain function, they could have 'learned' that approximately ten or fifteen minutes after the listed time is when the movie actually starts, thus allowing them to take in a few more minutes of commercials at home in front of the TV. But they're big companies (big companies are BAD!) and here's a chance to sue, so torts away! Damn the man!

    • jwz says:

      I try that on occasion; the problem is that all the sheep show up for the commercials and take the good seats.

      • soul4rent says:

        I guess those are the breaks. What I don't understand is why they differentiate between five minutes hawking cokes and video games and five minutes hawking the next generation of craptacular movies. But then, I never saw any contract that said the movie theater wouldn't try to sell me anything when I went to see a movie (hence the 'breach of contract' argument). And then again, maybe there are clockwork orange type restraints forcing these people to watch these ads that are so obviously stealing such important slivers of their lives.

        It's funny, I often hear lamentations about Americans' stupidity, gluttony, ignorance and callousness, but I almost never hear anyone complain about Americans' sense of entitlement.

        • jwz says:

          You're right, when people are given alternative-less products they don't like, they should just sit back and take it instead of trying to cause things to change.

          I seriously doubt a letter-writing campaign would have any effect, but this might. Probably not, but it seems marginally more likely to be heard.

          Yes, the legal system is often used as a weapon instead of a defense, and it is being used as a weapon here. But sometimes application of force is the most effective means of communication.

          • soul4rent says:

            What "alternative-less" products are you talking about? Movies? Theaters? Don't tell me there aren't theaters that don't put ads ahead of movies. If I can find five in Boston, I imagine there's at least one in Chicago. And what's this "sit back and take it"? Last time I checked, nobody's forcing them to shell out $10 to see Ben Affleck in a leather bodysuit. These aren't poor immigrants being forced to work in meatpacking plants here. These are people who are so offended that some company would advertise to them they went and filed a lawsuit. As if companies have no right to show advertising in their theaters, on their screens. The lady who spilled coffee in her lap had a less frivolous lawsuit.

            sometimes application of force is the most effective means of communication.

            Didn't Rumsfeld say that?

            • jwz says:

              What "alternative-less" products are you talking about? Movies? Theaters? Don't tell me there aren't theaters that don't put ads ahead of movies.

              First-run movies in theatres. And I don't know of any first-run theatres in SF that don't show commercials.

              Last time I checked, nobody's forcing them to shell out $10 to see Ben Affleck in a leather bodysuit.

              Look, the bottom line is, those commercials are annoying. So if this law suit serves to annoy the corporations inflicting them on me, then I'm all for it. Using the law in this way is undeniably fighting dirty, and I'm generally against fighting dirty. But against corporations, there is usually not much alternative to fighting dirty: fighting clean costs too much, and they have limitless budgets. Sure, I'd like to see the law changed. But I'd also like to see some sand kicked in the faces of the movie companies just on general principle, for the contempt with which they treat their customers.

              Didn't Rumsfeld say that?

              I think you meant Hitler.

              • soul4rent says:

                And I don't know of any first-run theatres in SF that don't show commercials.

                If I can find them in Boston, I find it hard to believe they aren't in San Francisco.

                the bottom line is, those commercials are annoying. So if this law suit serves to annoy the corporations inflicting them on me, then I'm all for it. Using the law in this way is undeniably fighting dirty, and I'm generally against fighting dirty. But against corporations, there is usually not much alternative to fighting dirty: fighting clean costs too much, and they have limitless budgets. Sure, I'd like to see the law changed. But I'd also like to see some sand kicked in the faces of the movie companies just on general principle, for the contempt with which they treat their customers.

                So, for $10, these places show you first run movies in a largely clean environment with massive surround sound systems, forty foot tall screens and stadium seating, and ship $9 of that ticket back to Hollywood. They make what slim profit margins they have on those commercials and people willing to pay $4 for a bag of popcorn. And because they they try to sell you stuff you aren't interested in, your pampered ass gets indignant and channels the great lectures of Trotsky and Marx, as if you are forced to pay attention to the ads (which you're not) the way the masses are forced to toil for their masters. Contempt? Commercials "inflicted upon" you? "Limitless budgets"? Cut the theatrics, you sound like a whiny college student. If the ads are such an affront, take those crappy seats after the ads are done or just don't go.

                • jwz says:

                  Wow, who pissed in your Wheaties this morning?

                  I'm not advocating socialism, I'm advocating fucking with those who are irritating.

                  Hope it annoys you.

                  • soul4rent says:

                    And I'm saying that if a few commercials in front of a movie is enough to irritate you, I don't think the problem is with the theaters, the movie companies, corporations with "limitless budgets" or anything else. Stop fishing for shit to piss you off (of course, that would mean you'd need to stop debating issues like this with people like me).

                    Glad to "piss in your Wheaties". Thanks for the throwback to 8th grade.

            • darwinx0r says:

              I read this page from the American Trial Lawyers Association recently, and changed my mind about the frivolity of her particular case.


              During discovery, McDonald's produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some claims involved third- degree burns substantially similar to Liebeck's. This history documented McDonald's knowledge about the extent and nature of this hazard.

              McDonald's also said during discovery that, based on a consultant's advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste. Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.

              Not that this really has much to do with the discussion at hand..

              =darwinuXu

              • soul4rent says:

                I've read that article too, it's definitely a sobering light on the whole issue. But then again, you're getting it from the number one trial lawyer's lobby (and number one lobby, period) in the country, so it should be taken with a grain of salt.

                In actuality, most roasters and brewers agree that the optimum temperature to brew and serve coffee is somewhere around 180 - 200 degrees. Most premium brewers instruct people to use water "right off the boil", i.e. a temperature around 200 degrees fahrenheit.

                That was your random coffee tip of the day.

          • irilyth says:

            Random thought: Just because they're showing commercials doesn't mean you have to watch them... What if everyone in the theater sang Rubber Duckie, You're The One (and other classic Muppet hits) while the commercials played? Or, perhaps simpler, chanted "Start the show! Start the show!" I don't know if it'd have any effect, but it might be fun anyway. Next time you're at a movie with eight or ten friends, start chanting, and see if you can get the whole theater chanting along with you...

            • earle says:

              Next time you're at a movie with eight or ten friends, start chanting...

              Dangerous territory. The RIAA would probably get wind of it and immediately equate it to skipping the ads on DVDs, making it grounds for imprisonment and/or fines for violating the DMCA.

    • icis_machine says:

      like jamie said... the good seats are taken.

      but even worst in the bay area is the fact that even if you manage to get a ticket (make sure you buy them at least 2 hours in advance) you need to get there a whole 1-2 hours before hand to ensure that you even get a reasonable seat. if i came to a mainstream movie 15 minutes after it started, i'll be just like the rest of the late people and end up sitting on the steps in the aisle.

      add that to your $10 ticket.

    • ciphergoth says:

      And if everyone did that, it would result in "time inflation", where they keep having to announce earlier and earlier false start times in order to get people in for the adverts before the movie. No matter how smart the population is, only a minority can ever successfully play the system, while a majority inevitably gets fucked about. Of course that's considered OK if you're a right-wing fuckhead.

      There may be workarounds, but that's irrelevent: it is wrong and fraudulent for them to advertise a false starting time in order to sell our warm, moneyed bodies to advertisers.

      • soul4rent says:

        only a minority can ever successfully play the system, while a majority inevitably gets fucked about. Of course that's considered OK if you're a right-wing fuckhead.

        Or a left-wing intellectual (or, someone who thinks the "majority" is too stupid to reach the abstraction that there will be commercials in front of the next movie they see and they could spend that time buying snacks). Not that I consider myself either, but one's no better than the other.

        Still, nobody has explained beyond using "it's wrong/unfair" why a theater has no right to determine what they put on their screen. Just because you find the ads distasteful doesn't make them illegal or "fraudulent". OK, so they could actually start the movie on time, but still previews monopolize about 80% of the pre-movie screen time. Just cutting out the ads would save about 1-2 minutes off that time. For an obsessive-compulsive that might be an eternity, but I think "the majority" doesn't give a shit. It's hardly the injustice it's made out to be.

        • ciphergoth says:

          Did you manage to read all the way through the reply you're replying to here? As I made clear, it doesn't matter how clever the people are; if you're allowed to lie about when the movie starts, the time will be announced early enough to get them into the movie early enough to show them advertising.

          It's amusing that you've tried to shift the focus from what they advertise to what they show, and used "distasteful" when you mean "dishonest".

          • soul4rent says:

            It's amusing that you've tried to shift the focus from what they advertise to what they show, and used "distasteful" when you mean "dishonest".

            The only issue even remotely "dishonest" here is the movie start time, and since those are already skewed to show previews (which everyone apparently doesn't mind), I don't see how an additional 1-3 minutes of ad time suddenly becomes an actionable offense. But I suppose everyone needs a campaign flag to rally round.

            Unless you can point to somewhere the movie theater explicitly or even implicitly states it will not show commercials before a movie, I fail to see how adding commercials to an already commonly understood difference between the start of the feature and the start of the projectors is "dishonest". But again, I guess everybody needs something to whine about.

        • ammonoid says:

          My your'e a clever little troll. The "issue" that everyone is taking exception to is the unwritten rule that ads are supposed to subsidize free content....so if you are paying to see something, then inserting advertising is a crappy/dishonest/underhanded thing to do. It would be a different thing entirely if, say, only one group of theatres had ads, and theaters competed on that basis, but they ALL started doing it at the same time. I personally hate the ads and can't stand the fact that I paid $9.50 to see advertising. Its not the time involved in actually watching the ads, its the principle.

          • jwz says:

            Oh, and you know, in addition to advocating abuse of the legal system to fuck with the people behind this advertising, let me make clear that I'd also advocate slashing their tires, if I knew where the entire executive staff of these companies parked. Just so nobody accuses me of being morally inconsistent or anything.

  2. mattlazycat says:

    No problems with the in-movie product placement, strangely. That's much more of a captive-audience thing.

    It's beyond weird in the UK though. The Odeon cinema in Stoke, where I used to live, showed two starting times for each film. The first was purely advertising and trailers, followed by an interval then the second starting time was the actual film. So even armed with the knowledge, and given a 5 minute break before the film actually starts after the trailers, most people still came in for the first showing time.

    Now that I'm closer to london, they show a reel of still-frame adverts before the adverts before the trailers before the film. It wouldn't be so bad if I could tell which part was the film. One day some enterprising young advertiser will notice that there's two whole walls and a ceiling going unused while people are watching a film. Subliminal advertising will be projected into the periphery of your vision while you watch a film. Weaker humans will find themselves overcome with inexplicable urges and be unable to finish watching the movie for the desperate need to buy the new Chicken McGallbladder or uPVC double-glazing.

    • cmm says:

      do you also get the mandatory breaks in the middle of the movie?   designed specifically for the incontinent, terminaly lacking in foresight and cola-addicted among us, I presume.

      here (the Holy Land), those who choose not to run off to the toilets (because they are not incontinent, terminally lacking in foresight or cola-addicted) are treated to more ads.   would be such a shame to let 10 whole minutes go to waste, right?   Big Brother sez you are supposed to recycle the candy water you bought before the movie and buy some more.   now.

      (needless to say, the exact time for having the break is uniform, and doesn't relate in any way to the movie in question.)

      • mattlazycat says:

        Holy crap, no, that's twisted. No mid-film interval. I could've done with one for The Two Towers — I'd been to the pub before-hand and I can't hold 5 pints like I used to.

        There was a mid-film interval at the cinema I went to in Holland (english film, dutch subtitles.. apparently the norm there, unlike the French who insist on a dub). Just about everyone rushed out of our seats and went to stand on the balcony and drink a couple more beers and have a smoke. Dutch cinemas are way more chilled than I'm used to, but I think I like it that way.

        • cmm says:

          > There was a mid-film interval at the cinema I went to in Holland (english film, dutch subtitles.. apparently the norm there, unlike the French who insist on a dub).

          they don't dub movies here either; I suppose they just wouldn't be able to justify the expence for such a tiny locale.   which is only good, AFAIC.

          re: dubbing: the Russians seem to have outdone everyone.   apparently the soundtrack for the Russian version of Chicago was completely redone by local singers.   the only movie theater in Moscow to show the intact original version made a killing last week.   people all over Russia hate the Moscowites more than ever now. :)

        • jwz says:

          Jesus, if they started stopping the movie in the middle to play more commercials at me, I think that would push me over the edge into figuring out how to download copies of first-run movies off teh intarweb.

          I really enjoy big screens, but they're doing increasngly more to subvert that enjoyment.

          • mattlazycat says:

            Yeah, it's a shame those wacky video glasses that project a huge screen in front of your face make me nauseous (I'm not used to my movie screen following my eyes around when I turn my head, strangely). I'm beginning to really appreciate the "medium-screen" though: a serious home cinema kit with a projector screen is pretty tasty. Gives me something to save up for when I grow up I guess.

  3. flipzagging says:

    Why don't you just buy and renovate a movie theater? ;)

    Ok, seriously though, I wonder if your DNA Lounge could be a decent rep cinema on certain nights. I have no idea what it takes to get into the nth-run movie business. Or if the club layout supports that concept. I'm thinking one of those ultra-premium theatres that serve drinks and allow tables.

    Could it be more profitable than drinks & dancing? Dunno. You might find it more personally enjoyable than house music.

    • jonabbey says:

      Austin's Alamo Drafthouse seems to always sell out their showings of first run movies, and they have grown from one location downtown to one downtown, one midtown, and one north, all with tables and pizza and beer.

      They also play really cool and/or wacky old-skool video oddities before the movie, thematically related to the main flick. They played a scratch 1990's-era trailer from a Captain America movie before Daredevil.

      Given the choice, there's no other theater in Austin I'd choose to go to.

  4. thesliver says:

    the British experience of cinemas is still a little different though its getting to be much the same. Getting rid of the film commercials would remove one of those common experiences that go into the mix. Everyone in Britain would know what you meant if you trumpeted with explosive lips "Bap Bah Bap Bah BapBapBap Bap Bah" etc, etc.

    What I would get rid of is the static Powerpoint ads right at the beginning, 'For a great Balti...'

    • ciphergoth says:

      You're missing some "Bap"s, it should be "Bap-baah, bap-baah, bap-baah, bap-baah, bap-bap-bap. Bap-baah, bap-baah, bap-baah, bap-baaaaaah... bap!"

      I shall be applying for a patent on this innovative audio compression technology soon... (see also "and finally" in NTK)

    • earle says:

      What I would get rid of is the static Powerpoint ads right at the beginning, 'For a great Balti...'

      What I can't stand is when they show TV adverts. Hello? I'm here for a big-screen entertainment extravagannnnnza, and you show me the same old shit I turn the volume down for on my television? Good grief. It's not even new, and there's no way of escaping it.

  5. streetx says:

    But then, this also brings up DVD-like issues - such as disabling the stop or skip options during certain screens or instances on the DVD. That annoys the hell out of me.