Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.
Column 19 January 16, 2002
What Women Want
Home Theater and the Other 51% of the Population
Question: I’m a retailer, and I’m losing sales to WAF – Wife Approval Factor. How do you get women “into” home theater?
Question: Avi, I’ve been reading your column, and I want a front projector. I’m pretty sure my wife will be opposed. Any advice before I go in to face the Warden?
Welcome to the great post-feminist age, where it’s OK to admit that men and women are different. In fact, they’re from separate planets. Here’s the problem: even if you buy into the whole Mars/Venus thing, nobody has explained how to get a Venusian into a Martian cave. (Or how to get her to approve buying a home theater system for the cave. Or for the cave’s living room.)
According to Hollywood’s market research, women are the primary decision makers for choosing which movies a couple sees. Similarly, women are the primary decision makers when renting home videos. On average, women spend more time per week watching prerecorded movies than men. And, while I don’t have poll numbers to back this up, I’ve found women to be extremely passionate about movies – they bet in office Oscar pools, wear fashions set by movie stars, and memorize lines from The Princess Bride.
Women ought to be natural home theater fans.
Obviously, something is keeping them back.
There is no economic argument for a decent home theater. Do not try to make one. Even if you need to hire a babysitter, live 100 miles from the nearest SuperMegaPlex, and tickets there cost $10 each, it’s still less expensive to go out than to buy a surround sound system. Even if you go every week. For years.
However, just because a home theater is not a necessity does not make it difficult to justify. With the latest digital technology, your home can provide a better picture and superior sound to what you get at an average movie theater. But you don’t have to leave the house – or even put on shoes. You can pause the movie to go to the bathroom. There are no noisy teenagers ruining the experience (unless they happen to be yours). You can turn down the volume. You can turn UP the volume. You can watch material the SuperMegaPlex would never show.
Whoa – hold on. When I said, “With the latest digital technology, your home can provide a better picture and superior sound to what you get at an average movie theater,” that’s it. That’s all the information most woman want about the technology. That the experience it will provide will likely be better than a typical movie theater. Women are not interested in technology per se, they’re interested in the benefits it provides.
Marketing research done by computer manufacturers shows that men see computers as computers, while women see computers as tools. What’s the difference? A computer has RAM and clock speed to brag about, an operating system to become religious about, and DVD-RW drives to lust after. A tool is either good enough to get the job done, or isn't. If a man isn't into video recording, he may still lust after a DVD-RW drive because it’s really cool. If a woman isn't into video recording, she simply won’t care about DVD-RW drives. But if she is into video recording, she'll be sure to buy a machine that has one – provided it’s not too poorly designed to get the job done.
Similarly, ask a custom home theater installer if their female clients are involved in the decision making process. They’ll tell you that women are extremely involved, and unvaryingly insist that the system is easy to use. Why? Because they want to use it! The gear isn't a hobby for them, it's a tool. Women tend to focus less on subtle differences in favor of the overall experience. To a woman, the difference between Dolby Digital and DTS is not terribly relevant – either one will provide excellent discrete surround sound. But a system with surround sound provides a noticeably superior experience to one without.
This is also the reason women insist on ease of use. They aren’t stupid – they could learn the exact sequence of buttons to press on the remote control for the TV, a separate one for the receiver, and finally the DVD player. But when they sit down to watch a movie, that’s what they’re focused on – the movie. Any system with three or more components should include a budget for a touch screen remote control and the time to program it (or money to pay someone else to program it). A system with a touch screen remote control with simple “watch DVD” buttons brings the immersive experience to the fore without any effort.
The rule of thumb here is that women and men see space differently – women want a room to be either a living room OR a home theater – not both at the same time. Sure, a man may think that the most important function of the living room is to serve up generous portions of Spielberg, but women need the room to function as a living room. If you dedicate a separate room to A/V entertainment, those objections should be mitigated somewhat (with my wife, they went away entirely, but things aren't quite that good for everyone).
However, if you can’t dedicate a separate room as a home theater, think stealth. Two piece digital front projection systems not only produce theater-sized pictures, they can actually be more female-friendly than a big screen TV, because you can install them invisibly. Small projectors blend into the ceiling (or can be hidden in the ceiling), the wiring can be hidden, and the screen can be recessed into the ceiling (or just be a large flat wall surface). For audio, use in-wall speakers, thin on-wall speakers, or unobtrusive tiny speakers from Gallo, Bose, or Sony. Speaker wires can be run through walls, under carpets, or you can use special flat wire that can be painted to match the wall to become nearly invisible. Voila! Your living room is a living room. Or a theater. Not both.
Stop talking about the technology, start talking about immersion. If you primarily want a big screen TV for football, consider how a woman might appreciate the larger screen size for watching movies.
Finally, don’t demo the technology! Most demo material used to show off home theater equipment alternates between explosions, car chases, explosions, science fiction, and explosions. Where's the Tom Cruise? Romantic comedies? It’s true that Tom Cruise saying "You complete me" while "Secret Garden" plays on the soundtrack (in Jerry Maguire) doesn't show off the subwoofer as well as meteors taking out Paris (in Armageddon) – but it is an impressive, immersive experience. The Titanic DVD isn’t enhanced for widescreen displays – but it’s a powerful, popular film.
So create a demo that highlights the experience, even if it doesn’t show off the system’s sound pressure levels, or anamorphic video capability. If you must show off the technical capabilities, you can always go with Shrek. Computer animation is simply the best demo material for both video (detail! color! bright scenes!) and sound (an entire world must be created sonically). It’s also more female-friendly than The Fifth Element. Even the SuperBit version of The Fifth Element. Trust me.
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© 2001, 2002 Avi Greengart