August 27, 2014

Saying ‘Meh’ to Media Rooms

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a story for this publication about how consumers were showing off then-new big-screen televisions in their then-new basement media rooms. Many spent thousands—some hundreds of thousands—to outfit these new status symbols with the best sound systems, leather recliners and vintage movie posters.

But now, media rooms elicit a big “meh.” A survey of 4,000 consumers released earlier this year by Better Homes and Gardens concluded that “consumers aren’t interested in media rooms.” Another survey of 700 Coldwell Banker real-estate agents found that only 1% of the home buyers considered a media room the most important feature of a house.

Yet the surveys shed no light as to why media rooms have fallen so far out of favor.

Perhaps it’s just their ubiquity; as my husband says, they’re common enough that “there’s no more ‘wow’ factor.”

But I suspect other factors are at play as well, having to do with where these rooms are and what we put in them.

First, the locale: No matter how fancy media rooms are, they’re still often below ground, the place most likely to be favored by spiders, black crickets and mold. That’s hard to forget when you turn out the lights to view a flick. That also makes them inherently less valuable than above-ground rooms, a fact underscored by Remodeling magazine’s latest “Cost versus Value” survey, which shows finished attics returning 72.5% of cost on resale, compared to 66.8% for finished basements.

And yet, for most of the last decade, putting electronics in the basement did make sense. Beginning in 2002, televisions went on steroids, morphing from 34 inches to 46 inches today, according to FlowingData is a website about statistics dealing with everyday life. The earliest giants, rear-projection televisions, quickly outgrew the era’s entertainment centers and took up a lot of floor space. Their screens faded out in bright light. Moreover, home theater systems with their boxy speakers, thick receivers and tangled wires, were simply too ugly to put upstairs.

So downstairs they went until 2009, when thin LED televisions light enough to hang on the wall came on the market. Their bright, glare-free screens, along with more unobtrusive peripherals like sound bars, finally encouraged the family to bring the TV set back into the sunny family room.

I consider this a positive development. But electronics continue to evolve, and I’ve noticed that even when we all sit down in the family room to watch the news, my gadget-loving husband and adult son don’t give their full attention to what’s on the screen. Rather, they’ll just glance at it while simultaneously scrolling for alternate information or entertainment on their iPhones or Kindles. Media have become multimedia, and family rooms have become multipurpose rooms, where individuals can pursue their own muses while still in the company of others. The quiet, dark, isolated single-purpose media room is dead.

Or is it? According to the Hollywood Reporter, box-office attendance at movie theaters climbed 14.6% this year from a year earlier — even though a ticket, drink and popcorn can set you back $25 and you have to turn off your cell phone. It seems there may still be a craving for a communal experience in a dark cave-like space.

What do you think readers? Do basement media rooms still make sense?

Write to June Fletcher at fletcher.june@gmail.com.

Article source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303640104577442071610810602.html?mod=residential_real_estate