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Survival of the Finest

Is the upscale home theater fated to go the way of the wild salmon?

In years past, millions of salmon made the journey from the sea to their spawning grounds, majestically becoming airborne as they forged upstream, climbing whitewater falls mankind could not navigate, even downstream. A glorious experience for those lucky enough to have seen it. Progress has, as always, had its way, resulting in a decimated population of wild salmon. Efforts to save them, including hatcheries, have resulted in swelling numbers of salmon, but have failed to save the greatest of them — the wild salmon. In fact, the abundance of hatchery salmon is likely to further destroy what was once great as their sheer numbers are overwhelming the remaining wild salmon. The magnificent overcome by the mundane. Is this the future for home theater?

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Action must be taken if this outcome is to be prevented, and all who want a flourishing private theater market will need to take part. We must gain the attention of our market and bring awareness of how desirable a private cinema can be. Ours is a pleasure unexploited, and it is time to change that. It is time to create Cinema Connoisseurs. It won’t be easy. It will not occur overnight. Connoisseurship will not come about without our help. Conversely, commoditization will.

All one has to do is watch. With every innovation that has the capacity to deliver the extraordinary, we rush to the lowest common denominator. The best video and sound in history is most commonly accessed via a compromised delivery system and consumed on mediocre systems in inferior environments. What does it say to our audience when we regularly allow price and convenience to trump excellence? Isn’t there a joke about wine from a box consumed in paper cups? This approach does not support connoisseurship.

Also by Sam Cavitt: Where Do We Go from Here?

Look at other luxury pursuits. What do they have that we lack? How does art compare to cinema? On the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index (KFLII), a study that rates the top ten luxury investments of high net worth individuals (HNWI), art ranked first in 2017. But Renzo Piano, the architect of the Motion Picture Academy Museum set to open this year in Los Angeles, enthuses, “Moviemaking is the most complete, truly contemporary art form. It brings narrative, acting, scenery, lighting, sound, and music together into the most marvelous machine for emotion.” We need to tell someone!

How about horology (number 3 on the KFLII)? Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona sold for $17.8M! I am certain the owner experiences great joy in that acquisition. But who is that joy shared with? Compare that to ownership of a fine private cinema and the many evenings with loved ones enjoying favorite movies and music. Isn’t it worth the extra care, effort, and investment to assure these evenings are all they can be? Instead our industry tends to use “good enough” as a standard.

To be fair, we are fighting an uphill battle. What these other pursuits enjoy is a community of connoisseurs. When we tell people how great private theaters are, we are seen as being motivated monetarily. Other interests enjoy a community of followers who are informed and share a growing appreciation for the values brought about by the pursuit. This results in a growing community that then seeks the highest level of excellence. Where we pursue the market, these other interests enjoy a community that pursues them! This community of advocates and appreciation is what connoisseurship is all about.

How can the private cinema industry gain a community of Cinema Connoisseurs? It will require a commitment from a significant part of our industry. Not all. There will always be segments of every industry that do not directly see the value of connoisseurship. Those segments do benefit in the form of aspirational luxury. Those of us within the industry that do see the value must be active. Some suggestions for our industry leadership include hosting end-user events, investing and facilitating media presence to the HNWI consumer, focusing up-market, and facilitating other stakeholders’ efforts to reach the HNW end user.

Also by Sam Cavitt: Designing Professional Screening Rooms for Private Homes

Every segment of the industry must participate. Manufacturers can help by pushing performance over price and supporting efforts by the growing community to get the word out. Integrators must focus on selling experience more effectively, refusing to compromise values and becoming connoisseurs in their own right. Alliances can support the manufacturers and integrators who are following the connoisseurship path. Let’s get creative as an industry. How about an EXPO Fortune 500 day and AD 100 day?

We all must do our part. CEDIA has included a few opportunities to explore this subject. I teach three such courses [see sidebar]. Please check them out. But we need to let our trade organization know it is important. There is a limit to how many classes are offered, and technical training is prioritized. Let’s not forget though, that unless we have a community of enthusiasts, Cinema Connoisseurs, who demand the finest and have learned to tell the difference, we may find ourselves swimming with the wild salmon.


Learn More

Sam Cavitt is talking about connoisseurship for the private theater industry at CEDIA Expo 2019. Hear Cavitt’s eye-opening perspectives about where we stand as an industry in relation to other luxury endeavors and how we can position ourselves for greater advantage and success. Cavitt is presenting three sessions: “Selling High-Performance Solutions & the Luxury Market”; “Creating Sonic Connoisseurs”; and, for the first time, “Becoming a Sonic Sommelier.” Register soon as space is limited!