Pre-movie ads rip off theatergoers, suits claim
February 19, 2003
BY DAVE NEWBART STAFF REPORTER
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.
One of the suits was filed by Miriam Fisch, 36, of Evanston, who teaches English and film in Lincolnshire and is Weinberg's former girlfriend. On Feb. 8, she went to see "The Quiet American'' at Loews' Pipers Alley theater in Chicago. She said she sat through commercials for Coca-Cola, Cingular Wireless, Fandango and one for the NAACP, which delayed the beginning of the movie by four minutes past its advertised starting time.
Greg Scott, 35, a DePaul University sociology professor from Oak Park, sued Classic Cinemas after he went to see "The Pianist'' Jan. 26 at the Lake Theater in the west suburb. He said he had to sit through three commercials before the movie started.
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.
Chris Johnson, vice president of Tivoli Enterprises, which operates Classic Cinemas, said the "concept [behind the suit] is ridiculous.''
He said his company had been showing no more than three minutes of commercials at some of its 12 theaters for about four years. But the advertised start time for a movie is for the entire presentation, not for the movie itself, he said.
An official with Loews declined to comment.