Television has remained one of the biggest and most successful mediums of the entertainment industry for nearly a century. When families began bringing home television sets in the early to mid-1900s, it quickly took over radio as the most popular news and media outlet and became an important component of family life.
The television made broadcasting visual information faster than ever, and for the first time people around the globe could witness live events right on their TV screens, from news stories to athletic events and more.
Fast forward to the late 1970s when a little device known as the VCR came onto the market and into homes around the world. This tape recording and playing device created by JVC absolutely transformed the way people consumed entertainment. No longer did you have to wait for your favorite movie to be broadcast on television for you to watch it at home. Now, you could bring a copy of the movie to your house on a VHS tape!
This invention was revolutionary, bringing the cinema into the homes of the masses. It was not met without much speculation and anxiety from the film and television industries, however. TV and film executives were concerned that the ease and convenience of the VHS would bankrupt their respective industries quickly and brutally. But how did the invention of the VHS tape really impact television?
Power to the People
The VHS was the first widely used piece of technology that made watching films at home a snap. Shortly after the device came onto the market, movie rental stores such as Blockbuster began selling and renting movies to people everywhere. It was finally so easy to watch anything you wanted practically at any time. If you missed a broadcast on television of The Wizard of Oz, it was nothing to worry about – you could just go rent or buy a copy at your closest movie rental store. Even seasons of television shows could be found on the format. Entertainment was changing.
Perhaps even more revolutionary than being able to rent or buy films to watch at home was the new ability to tape television programs from home with the VCR, the videocassette recorder. A person could simply set the timer on their recorder to when a desired program would be broadcast, and the VCR would tape the program onto a VHS tape while they were out of the house. This practice was often referred to as “time shifting,” because it essentially allowed a person to operate entertainment on their own schedule.
More Taped Movies, More Problems
While this practice was revolutionary for most individuals, it was harrowing for the television and film industry. Executives felt that the new ability to record programs for future watching hurt their programs’ rerun values. From their perspectives, this new ability to tape television programs for free violated copyright laws. It was time to take JVC and its detrimental machine to court.
Sony Corp. of America vs. Universal City Studios, Inc.
The Sony Corp. of America vs. Universal City Studios, Inc. Supreme Court case in 1984 was watched carefully by many, as the results could seriously change the way Americans used and consumed entertainment. Luckily, the Supreme Court ruled time shifting legal, and Americans happily carried on with their videotaping. Although the film and television industries sought reparations for the anticipated decline in revenue due to time shifting, these reparations were denied by the court and ultimately unnecessary.
As it turns out, the popularity of the VHS actually boosted film and television corporations’ revenues tremendously by creating a culture of movie goers and television fanatics. Sales and rental purchases of VHS tapes added more revenue than ever before to the film and television industry, a certainly unexpected yet fortunate outcome of home videotaping for the industries.
Technology Moves On
In 2006, A History of Violence was released on VHS, the last movie to ever be released on the format. The last VCR was manufactured in 2016, the final nail in the coffin for VHS. Although the days of this format are over, its cultural significance lives on and is just another example of technology continuing to blow past limitations and improve over time. Television, on the other hand, has continued to be successful and evolve itself to fit new and improved forms such as streaming services. Who knows what will become of entertainment in another ten years or so? Regardless of specifics, we can be sure that new technologies will continue to surprise us and entertain us for years to come.