A Really Dumb Lawsuit

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This story from Variety proves that we all have too much time on our hands. And gives all of us yet one more reason to hate high school teachers.

High school teacher Miriam Fisch wants those four minutes of her life back—and she thinks Loews Cineplex ought to pay for their alleged theft.

In a class-action lawsuit filed in Illinois state court on behalf of all Loews patrons, the Chicago-area English teacher claims the theater circuit's policy of playing pre-film product commercials amounts to a deceptive business practice because the ads begin at the time advertised as the start of a feature movie.

The legal action reflects the reaction of many moviegoers jarred by the increasing prominence of onscreen advertising in theaters industrywide. In fact, the succession of such pre-movie ads now often lasts up to 10 minutes or longer in many venues.

Even many proponents of the trend say cinema advertising is best limited to a few minutes prior to the advertised showtime, but that often isn't the case. Part of the problem involves the time required to clean theaters between showtimes, which can leave too little time to present commercials before the advertised movie time.

"It is completely ludicrous to have moviegoers pay good money to watch commercials," said attorney Douglas Litowitz, who is representing Fisch in her suit. "They can do that at home for free."

The suit seeks "lost time" damages of up to $75 per plaintiff covered under a class action, as well as an injunction to force Loews to stipulate separately when its onscreen ads will run and when movies will play.

Read the whole account here.

Ms. Fisch likely would get more buy-in on a class action lawsuit against Hollywood for its movies.

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  1. While I certainly agree that using a lawsuit is an absurd mechanism in this case, I highly doubt that I’m alone in saying I would very deliberately go to a theater — and maybe even pay a slightly higher ticket price — to avoid these commercials. I’m certainly not spending $9 on Friday nights to see Pepsi, Army, and community service spots.

    But I would, of course, like to see the free market take up my concerns rather than some prissy, litigous woman. Any movie theater execs out there listening?

  2. Like many “let the market work it out” situations, the market won’t work it out here because of information problems.

    The average American sees six movies in theatres per year. Since most of us have multiple theatres nearby, this probably translates to visiting any given theatre only every four months. And since you don’t know whether the theatre will be showing ads until you’ve watched a movie there, and the product of theatre policy-changes and limited human memory means that most of the time you don’t know which theatres show ads.

    The “let the free market work it out” solution, then, isn’t to do nothing. It’s to require theatres to disclose obviously and up-front that you’re going to be sitting through ads. And this seems to be what the lawsuit is arguing — that the theatres provided something distinctly different than what they have led people to expect.

    The free market is good at handling these things, but only if the relevant information is clearly and easily available. That theatres show ads without telling customers that they will do so is a deliberate attempt to avoid the free market working them out of business.
    –Grant

  3. I make rude noises if the commercials are not entertaining. I encourage others to do the same.

  4. I don’t like commercials at movies, but I don’t like commercials at home either. I’d rather see a few minutes of commercials than pay extra though. If it really is a big concern for enough people, then an enterprising theater operator simply has to start putting “Advertisement Free” in big letters on their signs and ads. If enough people are attracted by this, then the increased business will reduce the need for higher prices, and everyone wins. I wouldn’t expect this to happen until a lot of people start getting vocal. Maybe shouting Boo! and No Commercials! will help. 🙂

  5. I agree simultaneously that 1) commericals generally suck, 2) the free market won’t work here, or, if it does, it will take a long time, and 3) this is the kind of thing that makes us hate “trial lawyers”.

    It is rather amazing that they show commercials at the theater given that prices keep going up. What’s even worse is commercials on movies that I actually buy. This was a huge problem with videos, as you could only fast forward through it, an annoying thing when it’s your own property. Less of a problem with DVDs. There, you just have to sit through that dumb FBI warning that it’s illegal to copy DVDs. . . .

    But, anyway, there’s very little in life that isn’t annoying. We probably shouldn’t sue over all of those things.

  6. Seeing as how movie houses are controlled by Hollywood, and Hollywood has never in it’s history allowed the market to function within Hollywood’s domain, Nick is being painfully shortsighted and willfully ignorant in his analysis. In order for the market to adjust, market forces have to be in effect. The movies industry is essentially command, not market, and therefore the market will never work to remove these asinine commercials. Nothing I like better than paying to be advertised to!

  7. No theatre-owner in his right mind is going to do without the ad revenue generated by these commercials. Everyone has grown used to them by now–I seriously doubt enough people are going to fork over the extra cash over and above already-expensive movie tickets just to save five minutes of annoyance. It’s similar to some public schools who replace some of their funding with ad revenue. Now they HAVE to take the ads because the public funding disappeared. You can’t go back again, once ads intrude into yet another sphere where they don’t belong.

  8. Grant:

    No, this is not a market failure. People could, if they were bothered enough, or had enough interest, organize a clearing house for such information. The fact that they do not simply indicates it’s not worth it to them. Given that, why should the state coercively perform a function that individuals aren’t willing to do with their own money? Most, if not all, “public goods” are simply things that people don’t value enough to pay their own money for and organize from the ground up. If they care enough, there’s usually a way.

  9. The lawsuit’s silly. However, theater ads should not legally be allowed to claim that a film starts at “10:05pm” if it actually starts at “10:15pm” after the commercials. The ads advertise a movie, not a movie plus other crap. Just put a little “10:05pm*”, with “*indicates start of commercial advertisements”, so we know what they’re selling and what we’re buying.

  10. I’m astounded. The last time I set foot in movie theater was to see Oliver Stones “Nixon”. I had no idea they were playing commercials in theaters now. I nearly went to see that last Star Trek movie. If I’d sat down and started seeing commercials playing I think I’d’ve just shit.

  11. Note to litigous woman: GET A CLUE and/or LIFE.

    You know, if people really, really wanted to be stupid about this, maybe someone will sue the director and/or producer of a movie that begins with, say, 3 minutes of titles before it actually shows “the movie.”

    And what about the four or five minutes of closing credits? Sometimes people sit through them in order to see if there is any surprise (or “cookie”) at the very end — think “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” when, post-credits, Ferris re-appeared on screen and told people to leave the theatre. So, by the logic of this pinhead litigant, if I were to sit through the closing credits of a movie anticipating a “cookie,” but didn’t get one, could I sue the makers of the film for the four minutes of my life that I “lost?”

    Bottom line: I see maybe 2 movies in theatres per year — and the commercials don’t bother me at all. Why should they? Some commercials are entertaining, most aren’t…kinda like the movies. No guarantee going in that the movie you are watching will be as good as you expect, either…will someone sue for wasting 2 hours of his/her life for sitting through a movie that doesn’t deliver what the previews “promise?”

    Enough.

  12. David, you probably could sue if they advertised that there would be a cookie. It might seem kind of silly though.

  13. Where the heck on the movie stub does it guarantee there won’t be any ads before the movie starts? What, after all, are previews for other movies but — watch out! — ads? If I had my druthers, there wouldn’t be any commercials before the movies and Bruce Willis would send me half his paycheck. But the world is what it is. Don’t like it? Don’t go to the movies. You can watch ad-free movies at home any old time, via pay-per-view or rentals.

  14. we should hate high school teachers why? my father was a high school teacher, dickhead.

  15. So will the NYC cops arrest me if I’m using my cell phone during the commercials?

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