The use of Vhs and his tapes in productions set in the eighties validate it as a vintage piece. More than a resource that serves to provide credibility to the series or film, it is the symbol of a cultural process that influenced different areas, emotional and commercial.
Films, series, and even television programs are no longer exclusive to the big screen or governed by channel schedules. Through VHS, if the production companies had expanded their content to that format, people had at home that favorite story or that documentary that showed them things not seen.
Although at present its use is reduced – null, due to technological advances – it is not unreasonable to find people with a VHS tape at home. Through this medium, several of the most important films of the time were reproduced, including series and anime. Since some years, VHS is to film and television what vinyl is to music: a cult object.
VHS: the origin
The VHS was introduced to the world by JVC during the Chicago Consumer Electronics Fair, on June 4, 1977. The acronym stands for “Video home system”, A home video system – to which the Betamax would later appear as a competition. Nothing very bombastic, but of course, there would be video at home. The image, little by little, stopped being a foreign matter: for 44 years there had been another method to approach it.
It was a robust device that, to today’s eyes, would seem obsolete. A box that had a space in which the videotape was placed to be played through a television. That process, which might seem basic, changed several habits during the 1980s.
From then on it was possible to stop recording a football match or copy content from one tape to another. What can now be done through a configuration or by just sending a link for streaming had its first steps during those moments. Added to this is the change that, perhaps, is more evident and important: the appearance of video stores and, with them, the possibility of renting those VHS tapes in the mid-eighties.
Blockbuster: ‘cinema’ on the corner of the house
Blockbuster was the first company to position itself in the video rental market. It began to do so in 1985. The journalist, writer and cultural critic Jorge Carrión remembers in La Vanguardia what the video store experience was like for a user. “You entered with 300 pesetas in your pocket; you walked one by one the corridors, where the tapes were classified by genre; there was always a dark room at the back, the one with the porn, and after much hesitation you caught a movie on VHS that would be the only one of that week or of that month or of that summer that you would see by choice ”, he commented.
Although in some cases they could be purchased, the habit was to rent them with the payment of an amount and the commitment that the VHS tape had to be returned within a specific period of time. What did this allow? It fostered a kind of consumer dynamics, a circuit in which movies went through the neighborhood. Neighbors could return them ahead of time, in case they didn’t like them, or rent them again to continue seeing them.
The VHS tapes functioned as the expansion of the experience generated in the cinema. Those who were hooked on a production could see it again when it was available in that format; those people who could not see this or that title in the rooms had the opportunity to approach it without leaving home. The essence of this dynamic lay in having criteria when choosing.
For the companies it was also an opportunity to expand their franchises through exclusive productions for VHS and to incorporate titles without sufficient quality for the cinema. In this case, the covers and boxes had to appeal. This is how David Gary, a librarian of American History at Yale University, recalls it, consulted by Yale News and quoted by the BBC: that they came out very good, to attract and sell ”. Like paper, VHS held everything.
From VHS and DVD to Netflix and streaming: the evolution
Between VHS, Netflix and other streaming platforms there are various formats and cultural changes. One of the most significant was the appearance of DVD, the “Digital Versatile Disc”, from 1995 on. The format allowed more information to be stored. The videotape and the cassette it came in was no longer necessary. “Everything” fit on one disc. They began to simplify processes and find other ways of reproduction. Does anyone remember the floppy?
Video stores also began to adapt to this format. In fact, even today, when streaming and online platforms offer a huge variety of titles, these places still persist. Why? Because there are titles on DVD or Blu-Ray that cannot be found on Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney Plus, just to mention a few. According to The Telegraph, more than 50% of movies made for VHS were not released for DVD. Have you looked for classic movies on streaming services? A challenge. Like VHS tapes, video stores have also become places of worship.
This evolution, although it may be romantic, describes part of the technological evolution of humanity and how small changes alter processes in the short, medium and long term. Part of the business of Netflix, Disney Plus and HBO Max consists of having large and diverse catalogs to incentivize subscriptions, expand their database and stimulate permanence within their service. As competition in this universe grows, the need to offer new productions seems more urgent from the point of view of companies.
That may explain why films like The Woman in the Window (2021), with little support from film critics and with a theatrical release postponed during 2020, ended up on Netflix. What happened before with sagas like The Lion King or The Little Mermaid happened. After a great success with a first film, a series of prequels and narrative continuations emerged that did not have the impact of the first ones, but allowed to continue feeding a story through other formats.
Although it is difficult to estimate how much money the VHS industry generated during the eighties and nineties and how much it generates today, through collectors, an example about Star wars can give clues. According to Mercado, VHS gave the franchise more than $ 873 billion in revenue. It is true: Star Wars as a cinematographic and cultural product eats at a different table from the rest. But the data serves to measure the consumption dynamics that existed between production companies, VHS and video stores. Now, in addition to the amount of money, there is also talk about the number of views.