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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Regal Responds and the ACLU (to a lesser extent)

My thanks to Teresa Walsh and Amy McGinnis at Regal's Operational Services. They both sent me the same response, but at least they replied. I post it herewith:
Thank you for contacting our office regarding Regal's policy to search packages, backpacks, etc. before entering our auditoriums. We certainly appreciate the opportunity to respond.

Security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America. Regal Entertainment Group wants our customers and staff to feel comfortable and safe when visiting or working in our theatres. To ensure the safety of our guests and employees, we reserve the right to inspect the contents of any backpack, package, or bag prior to admission. We acknowledge that the system can cause some inconvenience and that it is not without flaws, but hope these are minor in comparison to increased safety.
As I wrote both Ms. Walsh and Ms. McGinnis, on reflection I don't have an issue with Regal's policy on the grounds that Regal is a private enterprise and the searches take place on private property. I do, however, have a big issue with the search policy not being posted anywhere visible (that I can see). I also have a big issue with the utter nonsense that this policy has to do with "increased safety." As I wrote in response to both representatives, there are two primary and probably/possibly more salient reasons for the searches. To wit (had to say "to wit"...not unlike "herewith"):
I recognize that theaters are private property and have the right to execute search and seizure within the bounds of the law. I don't have a problem with that. I really don't. I do have a problem with no signs being posted alerting the patron to that effect; I do have a problem that this is for the public's safety.You and I both know that it's first to ensure that people aren't bringing in their own concessions, thereby costing each cinema revenue from arguably the major supply line; second, you could at least say that you're conducting bag searches so that people don't bring in recording equipment (this is less of an issue, as I'm sure we all realize); and a distant third is that Regal is genuinely concerned about public safety. That said, Regal should invest in printing up signs and posting them around its properties so that people aren't blindsided by a surprise search. I believe this could only work to Regal's advantage. Greater transparency would lead to more sound business practices and probably improve customer relations and probably not have a negative impact on attendance.

Am I off the mark on this? One can assume that there would be a drop in attendance or would there? Wouldn't people be more likely to leave their bags in the car or at home? Wouldn't posting signs at least give people some advance notice and to psychologically prepare. If people know about a policy and still patronize the venue, you're probably doing something right and you might actually see concession prices stabilize after an initial glitch. I say might because I can't point to any data that would confirm this since, well, no one's been posting notices about this practice.

I'm still calling for friends, family, strangers to boycott Regal until/unless this policy changes. That a major corporation won't introduce signage to support their policy and alert their customer base is only going to result in people staying away from those places of business. It's too bad that it takes irate customers to bring this idea to the table of companies, but it should be done.

I'm sorry I won't be in the states much longer to see how or if this plays out, but I'd like other consumers to take this idea and spread it around and not just to movie chains. Any business that elects to go into others' private property on site should be served the same notice: fine, but then, you don't get my business moving forward and unless you give due notice, the word will spread to not patronize your place.

Specific to the industry, though, can movie chains afford to piss off movie goers? They're already facing steep competition from online distribution and while sales might be up, attendance is down. Sales are up due to inflated prices. I've said this a bunch: I don't want to see movie theaters vanish and I'll be a strong advocate for their continued presence as part of the cultural landscape; but I'll be more likely to support them if they don't foul the relationship with ill-conceived and executed policies.

Oh, my ACLU brothers and sisters contacted me from the Houston office! With an automatically-generated email that if I wanted legal assistance, I'd have to wait several weeks for an attorney to get back to me. WTF???!!! I wasn't looking for legal assistance! I wanted to know if the ACLU had received similar complaints, what the legal parameters were for searching bags on private property and what they might suggest as a response. Automated responses suuuuuuuck.

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