Truth in advertising: Will Imax finally get real about screen size?

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I keep telling my son that if he doesn’t stretch every day he’ll never be a world-class gymnast, but does he listen? No. I told Judd Apatow if he didn’t trim the fat out of ‘Funny People’ it would flop, but did he listen? No. I told Kanye West that if he kept running around acting like a boorish egomaniac that even the president would think he was a jackass, but did he listen? (OK, I’m kidding about that last one.)


Alas, people rarely listen to newspaper loudmouths like me. For example, last May, when a wave of protest hit after comedian Aziz Ansari started a one-man blogosphere assault against Imax, outraged that he’d gone to see ‘Star Trek’ in Burbank only to discover that the supposedly giant screen was barely any bigger than an average multiplex screen, I told Imax chief Rich Gelfond that he should simply engage in a small example of truth in advertising. If the hot-button issue with Imax consumers is screen size, why not put up signage outside theaters telling audiences exactly what they want to know? As I put it back then: ‘If you tell people the size of your screen, they’ll be far less likely to feel like they’ve been oversold once they’re inside the theater.’

So imagine my surprise when Gelfond called me Tuesday afternoon to say that he was -- gasp! -- taking my advice. ‘We believe that transparency is important,’ he told me. ‘So we’re going to give consumers the information they need. Effective immediately, moviegoers can go to our website and see whether an Imax screen is in a multiplex [with smaller screens] or in what we call a classic theater [with the typical four-story Imax screens]. In the weeks ahead, we’ll have the same information, in the form of a sign or a brochure, at the box office of individual theaters, so you can read it before you buy a ticket.’

Alas, Gelfond’s idea of full transparency is still not my idea of full transparency. If you visit Imax’s website and check out the size of their theater at the AMC 16 in Burbank -- the theater that caused the original flap -- it is simply labeled as a multiplex design theater with a ‘range’ of potential width-to-height screen sizes (47x24 feet to 74x46 feet). You can learn all about the theater’s acoustically treated walls and its immersive patented theater geometry, but Imax still won’t tell you a theater’s exact screen size. (I’m guessing that’s because AMC and Regal, who are Imax’s partners in most of its multiplex operations, don’t want anyone providing precise screen sizes or seat counts.)

So while Imax has made a step in the right direction, it’s still a small one, and not one that’s significant enough to count as bona fide truth in advertising. In fairness to Gelfond, the company clearly enjoys a high level of customer satisfaction. It recently had Nielsen conduct a consumer research survey to determine Imax’s level of moviegoer satisfaction. Nielsen interviewed 6,000 moviegoers this summer who’d attended showings of ‘Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian’ and ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ at a variety of different Imax theaters.

According to the study, there was hardly any difference in satisfaction levels for the smaller multiplex design theaters as opposed to the larger classic design theaters. The survey found that 88% of moviegoers who went to a classic design theater were either very satisfied or extremely satisfied while 85% of moviegoers felt the same way about multiplex design theaters. When I joked to Gelfond that the last guy to get such sky-high approval numbers was Hugo Chavez, he quipped: ‘The difference is that Nielsen counted our numbers, not Jimmy Carter.’

There’s no doubt about it. Imax definitely enjoys widespread moviegoer popularity. But I still wish it would do the right thing and be even more forthcoming about exactly how big its big screens really are.