Keen to see the new
Adam Sandler comedy, but unable to secure a sitter for your
noisy infant? A number of cinema companies are generating
extra revenue with baby-friendly screenings for new moms
by Alma Freeman
It’s a chilly December morning in the Southern California
beach community of Santa Monica, and Doris Chang is toting
5½-month-old son Ryan to his fifth “Reel Moms” screening. “I
wouldn’t ever take him to a regular screening because
I’m intimidated,” she confides, “but here
if he cries, everybody knows it’s par for the course.”
The lights are still up before the 11 a.m.
screening of “Casa
de Los Babys” at the Loews Broadway Cinema 4 and another
of the world’s smallest moviegoers is charging on all
fours up an aisle toward the swinging-door exit. Dad’s
efforts to recapture the infant are momentarily aided when
the tot finds his route blocked by a second tot, this one
transfixed by the floor lighting as she submits, legs pointed
skyward, to an impromptu diaper change.
Most of the nearly 40 moms (there are a handful
of dads as well) have already settled into their seats or
a good 15 minutes before the movie begins. Some moms are
still parking their strollers in the “valet” stroller
spot, while others in the auditorium try to feed and change
their babes before the show begins. Many hope these preparations
will help their youngsters sleep through the movie, allowing
them a chance to see a first-run adult film without worrying
about disturbing the other parents.
“Reel Moms” screenings are held at this cinema every
Tuesday morning at 11. Babies are free to cry, poop, babble,
coo, scream, sleep or eat, while moms and dads can relax
and not worry about scathing glances. The parents are also
freed from the chore of securing the aisle seat on the last
row, because they no longer anticipate making a lightning-quick
exit at baby’s first peep.
As a rule, moviegoers are not admitted into
a Reel Moms screening unless accompanied by a child.
Birthing The Concept
Loews senior vice president of marketing John McCauley and
his wife, Hope, came up with the idea for Reel Moms while
mulling why they never went to the movies with their now-25-month-old
daughter. They concluded Hope was typical of the countless
stay-at-home moms who make innumerable trips to the video
stores, trying to avoid going stir-crazy at home. They
also realized a special screening set up specifically for
moms like Hope – moms who had not seen the inside
of a movie auditorium since their babies arrived – might
allow the circuit to tap into a grossly underserved demographic.
McCauley gave his idea an 8-week trial run
in November 2002 at the Loews 34th Street facility in New
York City. He says
the experiment far exceeded his expectations, drawing nearly
250 moms every Tuesday morning.
Loews relaunched the program that spring in
additional markets, and today 30 Loews facilities nationwide
McCauley says that although he had heard of
smaller, independent chains hosting special baby screenings
when he started his
program, he had never heard of any other U.S. circuit moving
forward on a national level.
Encouraged by its early success, Loews has
slowly been building on the Reel Moms concept, developing
services such as valet stroller parking, play areas, lower
sound volume, in-theatre concession carts and brighter lighting.
At select locations, doors open an hour early for pre-show
socializing, a time designed to let mothers get settled and
meet friends before the movie.
“Women are coming because this is filling
both an emotional need to connect with other women – because there’s
a sense of isolation – and a rational need to see the
movies,” says McCauley.
Variations On A
Taking into consideration that most working parents are unable
to attend the Tuesday morning screenings, Loews launched
9 a.m. Saturday Reel Moms screenings three months ago at
the 34th Street facility. McCauley hopes to further expand
the Saturday program in other markets, capturing a different
group of moms and hopefully bringing more dads into the
This past fall, two other large circuits began
offering programs similar to Reel Moms: National Amusements
Pictures” on Sept. 9; Crown Theatres initiated “Movies
For Moms” the following month.
Baby Pictures, which began with 10 a.m. screenings
every other Tuesday at NA’s Showcase 16-plex in Randolph,
Mass., actually traces its origins to CineBabies, a program
that NA’s Canadian corporate sibling Famous Players
has had in place since 2002.
NA expanded Baby Pictures to two other sites
in October and, encouraged by the strong turnout, plans to
to a variety of other sites in both urban and suburban
Like most other baby programs, Baby Pictures
admits babies up to 12 months free, though there is technically
age for admittance.
Andrea Raasch, a licensed clinical social worker at the Center
for Family Services and director of Safekids in West Palm
Beach, Fla., says that she had never heard of baby screening
before Crown launched “Movies for Moms” in
October, but says that she was extremely impressed with
“When you think about mothers with young
children, there aren’t
a lot of places in public that are child-friendly, so this
is an opportunity for mothers to go someplace where it’s
OK if their baby makes noise, or it’s OK if they have
to stop and change a diaper or feed the baby,” she
says. “Often [mothers with small children] are very
overwhelmed and exhausted, and there’s a sense of isolation
because they spend a lot of their energy and time doing basic
caretaking, and this kind of activity really allows them
to get out of the house and catch up on the latest movie
without having to wait until they come out on video.”
She explains that we as a culture maintain
high expectations for what behavior should be for young children,
kids under the age of two are not always going to be cooperative
with these standards, especially in a public setting. Baby
cinema programs are great, she says, because they let a “kid
be a kid, while mom doesn’t have to sit there and be
anxious and embarrassed and all of those things that would
happen if she were to take her baby to a regular movie.”
Not A Kid’s
Though Reel Moms is designed for babies under two, McCauley
believes that one big reason the program is such a success
is it offers adult movies, including R-rated selections.
He maintains that Reel Moms is not a kid’s program,
but a service that seriously takes into consideration what
adult moms want to see.
“Some movies you might not want to go
to,” he says, “but
by and large, the moms tell us ‘I can’t believe
I got treated like an adult, and get to see an R-rated movie.’” McCauley
admits that closer attention must nonetheless be paid to
a Reel Mom movie’s content, to ensure that the subject
matter is fitting. Certain movies containing rape scenes
or molestation, for example, are not selected.
Zvi Cole, director of marketing for Connecticut-based
Crown Theatres, which launched its Movies for Moms program
months ago at 11 sites, also maintains that booking films
for the program must be done on a case-by-case basis. However,
he says the company generally tries to seek PG- and PG-13-rated
“The point is that you’re bringing your babies, so we
don’t want loud sounds [or] anything jarring,” he
says. “But the decision is ultimately up to the parents
Stacia Hatherly, manager of business development
142-screen Empire Theatres chain, says that because Empire’s “Reel
Babies” program (formed two years ago) caters to very
young infants who have not yet learned to crawl, she is not
concerned about movie content.
“I would never turn anybody with a child
says, “but sometimes with 3- or 4-year-olds you are
concerned with content on the screen,” It isn’t
typically a problem, she adds, because after a baby starts
crawling, it becomes too difficult for a mother to sit still
and watch a movie anyway.
Moms in each Reel Babies market vote on film
selections for the bi-weekly program through online polls.
An element crucial to running one of these programs, says
McCauley, is getting in touch with local parent groups
and publications, which help spread word among new moms
McCauley first advertised Reel Moms in UrbanBaby,
one of the largest national websites devoted to supplying
local resources and social events for new parents. Listings
in newspaper directories and cross-promotions with periodicals
like Child Magazine have enabled Loews to promote the program
with very little expenditure.
McCauley also hopes to one day create “mom chapters” in
each market, with local mothers serving as the presidents.
By empowering the moms, he believes, the program could become
more customized to fit individual market needs.
It Came From Canada
Much of the current baby-cinema mania can be traced directly
to frustrated Canadian mom Sandi Silver, who launched her
CineBabies program at a Cineplex Odeon site in August 2001.
The program quickly spread to other, independent moviehouses
in Greater Toronto and by June 2002 Silver had taken the
program nationwide via an exclusive agreement with Famous
Players. Last May the number of Famous CineBabies sites jumped
from five to 19.
Silver sends one of her “CineMommas” (local
moms hired from the community) to each CineBabies screening
ensure that everything runs smoothly and to help out with
things like changing tables and play stations.
Silver herself handles grassroots marketing
for the program, distributing flyers to doctors offices and
gyms, as well
as forming relationships with companies such as Huggies,
which supplies free diapers and wipes to all Famous Players
Famous Players manager of corporate affairs
Andrew Sherbin says that the revenue sharing relationship
to serve as the liaison between the local parents and
the circuit, while Famous Players focuses on the larger promotions
via Web and newspaper advertising.
of Rapid Turnover
Because babies essentially outgrow a mommy movie program
when they learn to crawl (a development that usually occurs
between an infant’s 7th and 11th month), organizers
of baby screenings must constantly be on the hunt for new
customers. And we mean new.
Cinema owner Rocky Friedman operates
one of the oldest ongoing mommy-movie programs in North
America, having established
Diaper Daze at his Rose Theatre in Port Townsend, Wash.,
way back in 1999.
Fiftysomething Friedman’s idea emerged from memories
of the nearly-extinct “crying rooms” of his youth,
glass enclosures that gave new parents a nice view of the
big screen as they tended to their wailing offspring. Rather
than build a separate room, the exhib decided to turn his
entire auditorium into a “crying theatre.”
He allows that finding a new crop of
babies for the program can be challenging, especially in
a town with a population
“The program is not for toddlers;
it’s for parents and
infants who sleep through the movie. And they grow out of
it basically in one season, so you are always having to recruit
new people,” he says.
Even though the endeavor barely covers
his expenses, he intends to stick with it on a limited
parents in town are so appreciative.
Back in Santa Monica, Deena Margolis
and her 8-week-old son have just completed their first
Reel Moms moms gather their babies, tending to
last-minute diaper changes and feedings, slowly
way into the lobby to pick up strollers and catch
parents. Some boast that their babies slept throughout
movie for the first time today, while friends
nod with envy and admiration.