According to CNN, a high school teacher in Chicago has filed a lawsuit to gain the 4+ minutes of blatantly retarded advertising time that theaters everywhere have tacked onto the beginning of films.

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.

Litowitz said he may target other big chains with similar suits in the future. "We feel the most people would be best served by going after the biggest chains," he said.

Kearney, who is chief executive of on-screen advertising giant Screenvision, said the Fisch lawsuit was "ridiculous." U.S. moviegoers are already used to movie ads, he said, though cinema advertising has yet to gain a level of acceptance in the U.S. to match its well-established presence in European exhibition.

"Everybody knows when they turn up at a cinema there's going to be some announcements, some trailers and these days some advertising before the main feature starts," Kearney said.

n a press release, Litowitz and Weinberg said the Fisch lawsuit "does not challenge the right of movie theaters to show movie previews prior to the start of the show." But current practices make moviegoers "unwitting subjects for annoying commercials," they said.

As far back as 1998, Ralph Nader's consumer group Consumer Alert was arguing that newspaper listings of movie times should be based on actual movie times and not the pre-movie commercials. The group also called for laws to govern movie listings.

"It's bad enough there are so many product placements paid for by brand-name companies in the films themselves without frontloading the audience's movie experience with more ads," Nader said at the time. "Whatever happened to art?"

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