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So, How Is the Home Theater Business?

Home theaters are doing well, but they should be doing so much better.

How is business? That question, common as a greeting, came to mind when I sat down to write this column for Residential Systems’ annual State of the Industry issue. My answers may surprise you. Many who ask about the state of home theater business seem to anticipate a particular response. Before I give my answers, however, I want to discuss those presuppositions.

Paradise Theater - Screening Room - Home Theater

Somehow it has become popular to assume that home theaters, at least the dedicated, private-cinema type of home theaters, have suffered from a decline in interest. This rumor has been around for decades when, in fact, today more people enjoy better dedicated private cinemas than ever before! In the face of this truth, why does such a notorious morsel of gossip persist? Why does it even exist?

To explore this second question, I find it useful to recall my earliest days in the industry. I was finding my way from a music career to a career in luxury design when the concept of a home theater was presented to me. It was a “man on the moon” watershed moment. The idea that people were having rooms created expressly for the purpose of watching movies and that I could have a career creating these rooms was inspirational to me. I feel blessed to have found that moment and to have been able to follow that vision. But it hasn’t always been easy.

Also by Sam Cavitt: Building A Private Cinema Community

We started out with that singular purpose: to create private cinemas (we called them home theaters then). But very quickly a type of entropy asserted itself that attempted to draw us away from our purpose. Very quickly we found ourselves being drawn into “can you” projects. Can you also provide a system for my family room? Can you do music throughout my home? Can you add a pool table in my theater, too? “Yes, yes, and yes,” we said. Why not? I recall one early project where we were commissioned for a dedicated theater room and a media room across the hall, as well as house-wide audio and control. I didn’t realize how prophetic our clients’ comments were at the time. “If I had known how good the theater was going to be, I would have stuck with that and passed on the media room!”

Kramer Chef or Swiss Army? Rolls Phantom or Sports Utility Vehicle? Original or Limited Edition? Whether tools, transportation, or art, differentiation in application, utility, and value exist. In these examples, there is little confusion. We don’t take the Kramer or the Phantom camping and we don’t expect the same experience from a copy. Not true, however, in the home theater industry.  In fact, many actively tout the myth that the dedicated space is dead, or if not, unnecessary. Big bright screens, in-wall speakers, and electronics with some version of electronic alchemy are all you need, they say. There is no need to go to all the trouble to have a dedicated room. Well, I may like my Swiss army knife and keep it in my truck, but please don’t use one to slice my sashimi!

Why have we as an industry allowed the ordinary to be mistaken as the extraordinary? Why do we allow the extraordinary to be missed? Do not be deceived; by disguising the distinction we are misguiding our market. We are depriving our clients, ourselves, and our industry of the opportunity to experience and be so much more.

I do not believe this is due to any malicious intent. No one is out to cheat anyone. In fact, the confusion exists due to the desire to offer more — “home theater, and…” We have failed to realize that perfection can be realized not by adding more, but by knowing when to stop. The extraordinary can be refined, but it can also be diminished. These are truths our industry could do well to observe. The experience available in a well-engineered, designed, and completed private cinema is consummate. Perfectly.

So how is the home theater business? Outstanding. More people are enjoying and commissioning better private cinemas than ever before. Our capabilities and knowledge are many times more than those of just a few years before. We have resources we never dreamed of. Technology, talent, and partners are bringing it all together to deliver the finest private cinemas the world has ever seen…until the next one! We don’t see it going anywhere but up.

Also: How is the home theater business? It could be better. The only people doing much talking about it is the industry, and many of us are echoing messages that are harmful and untrue. The good news is that we can do something about it.

  • We can recognize misconceptions: The rumors that home theater is dead, isn’t necessary, or desirable is not true or beneficial for anyone. Remember, a rising tide floats more boats!
  • Educate on possibilities: This works both ways. Educate yourself on what the differences are and what experiences are offered by all the options, including those only experienced in a properly executed private cinema. This is an expanding strategy rather than a limiting one.
  • Listen for opportunities: When your clients have been educated on the possibilities, listen. Given the opportunity, people want more. Open those doorways of inspiration and let your clients’ imaginations lead them. Be ready to deliver the extraordinary!
  • Spread the word: Let’s work together to change the narrative. As an industry we know how good it can be. Let’s continue to educate ourselves on that and experience extraordinary ourselves often so we can in turn inspire our market to allow us to do our best for them.

There is a class of goods known as passion investments. Art, automobiles, yachts, and jewelry are regularly at the top of that category. Home theater has never made an appearance on the list. It’s about time it does.