More than 25 years ago, Matt and Patrice York had an idea of sharing their love of video technology with like-minded people, to teach and encourage users of those new-fangled video machines how to make their home movies better. They wanted to democratize the elusive world of video creation, to bring the elitist process of video production to the masses. The hard work was soon to escalate in June 1986 with the launch of Videomaker magazine. There were other video-centric magazines such as Video and Video Review, but these were for people who “watch” video, not “make” it. Occasionally these magazines had “How To” articles about video techniques, but it was a small part of their content. There were a few publications for professionals in Hollywood, but Videomaker was the first of its kind dedicated to every-day video enthusiasts.
25 Years ago – 1986: Format Wars
Videomaker‘s early years focused on three challenges that we felt were the biggest hurdles video enthusiasts were going to have to overcome. Camcorders able to record images of a high enough quality that would attract audiences; the skills and gear needed to edit the video in proper sequences with good audio, titles, and effects; and an easy method of distributing the video to an audience.
In its infancy, Videomaker tackled such subjects as making entertaining wedding videos, using a computer to edit, (very advanced concept at the time!), audio syncing, video terminology, and primers on homemade titles that would have today’s electronic graphic artists laughing at the simplicity. Because 8mm film was still very much in use for home movie enthusiasts at the time, Videomaker‘s first few years had continuing features for making the transition from film to video and technical explanations, as well as the good vs. bad to both (video: instant access and easy to view; film: clearer images and better color, etc.). Our first issue included a “Charter Member” subscription offering six issues for $9.97 – what a bargain! I wonder if any charter members are still reading us today.
The format war – Beta vs. 8mm vs. VHS-C, etc., was big our first few years. In fact, we had three bi-monthly issues in a row dedicated to camcorder buyer’s guides – each issue featuring a different format: VHS-C in June, 8mm (Video8) in August, and VHS with two Beta cams in October 1987. We featured 58 camcorders in all, with an average price of $1646. Sixteen VHS camcorders – average price: $1625, twenty-one 8mm cams – average price: $1710, twenty-one VHS cams – average price: $1564 and two Beta cams. ($1495 and $1795 respectively.) Only the Zenith VM6150 “Sharpshooter” VHS-C was priced under $1000, and those priced at the top kept their prices at $1900 or less, possibly to appear to be in that magic “less than $2000” sweet price. The Minolta CR-8000S 8mm camcorder, at $2186, was the only one that topped the $2000+ mark.
Our Buyer’s Guide featured a sidebar asking “What about Beta?” stating: “Although an obvious minority in the marketplace, Beta camcorders remain a viable option for quality minded video producers. Boasting the highest resolution among consumer-level formats, (until the arrivals of Super-VHS and ED Beta,) and benefiting from excellent format-specific editing capabilities, Beta is especially practical for dubbing to other formats.” Although Beta was a superior format, VHS eventually won out due to price and availability.
At $1000+, prices for average consumers were still quite high. Those camcorders were clunky, the low-light shots were terrible, and the color was horrific compared to today’s superior quality cameras for under $300.
15 Years Ago – 1996: Video via email?
Our ten-year anniversary issue had some exciting news to announce: “Videogram, a proprietary CODEC supported by Alaris Incorporated’s QuickVideo capture card, can be used to create tiny, multimedia-style video clips that are small enough to send via email or over the Internet.” The advantages of the new CODEC, the story said, would allow users to fit a 30-second audio/video file on a single 3.5″ 1.44MB floppy disk. Wow. Video creators could then embed the playback software within the video file itself, creating a self-playing .EXE file for distribution to anyone with a 486 or Pentium computer. This was big news, and the beginning of what we have today – mass video distribution, the hurdle video producers needed to conquer so they could showcase their videos to larger audiences, without having to depend on the “middleman.” The need for distributors was starting to fade.
Sony launched a digital VCR that year, at a hefty price in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, but DVDs were about to hit the market hard, and with them, clean copy abilities, causing industry concern. We reported on legislative news regarding digital machinery copyrights that Congress was deliberating. We told our readers that video producers “interested in going digital should pay special attention to the outcome of this legislative battle; the ability to buy inexpensive equipment that makes perfect digital copies of audio and video may hang in the balance.”
The copyright issue is still big, all these years later, and even more so now that we have sites like YouTube, where anyone can post anything at anytime. Digital VCRs came just too late for the digital revolution – DVDs were about to change the market, but they, too, may be on their way out following a 15-year run. Videograms? Not exactly a viable method of distribution, but getting close.
Although camcorders were becoming easier to use and more affordable, video editing was still cumbersome for the average consumer, and many people were still using a tape-to-tape method, which required two VCR machines and a shuttle, along with some synchronization or time-base corrector system to match up two video streams. Professional editors were already working on computerized editing software, called nonlinear editing, but the process was still difficult, highly technical, and expensive for the average consumer. Matt York lamented in his 10th anniversary Viewfinder column: “I am very disappointed at … manufacturers for their inability or unwillingness to manufacture equipment that makes editing easier…”
10 Years Ago – 2001
The turn of the century saw a lot of technological changes that Science Fiction movies and books from the 1950s and 60s envisioned: computers in every home, wireless phones and everyone beginning to “own” their own TV channel. (I’m still waiting for flying cars, though!) Videomaker told you about special effects software to make cool “new” morphing techniques as made famous in Michael Jackson’s Black or White music video.
Very few of Videomaker‘s stories had any reference to tape-to-tape editing by that point, but we did write features on getting your film transferred to digital. Streaming video was a big subject, and there were many debates over whether producers should stream video because the quality was so bad compared to DVD or VHS copies. 2001 also saw a shift in professional versus consumer gear; more consumers were now editing in a nonlinear format than broadcast TV markets. We wrote: “The cost of embracing a different format is a major economic consideration, (especially when you are talking about numerous machines), so the broadcast medium is the last to get onto the techno wave.” The camcorders, editing software and computers were now affordable for consumers. By 2001, the final hurdle was easy distribution and what we called the “last 15 feet” – that is, getting your video from the computer in the edit suite to the TV in the entertainment room.
As a visionary, Matt York saw the advances of internet video that we enjoy today, and knew someday we’d reach this pinnacle, yet no one was prepared for how quickly video over the ‘net could affect people on the opposite side of the earth just a few moments after huge events occurred. Case in point: When riots erupted in Iran in 2009, traditional media was locked out of the country. In another time, if a government wanted to keep the rest of the world ignorant to civil unrest it simply closed the doors to outsiders, and persecuted anyone who tried to get the news out. Now, between mobile phones and extremely small cameras, capturing extraordinary events is left in the hands of ordinary people who can instantly upload visual proof to ‘the cloud’ for the world at large to watch.
5 Years Ago – 2006
“Video has helped shape our world view… Video is now seen on websites, in movie theaters, on portable media players and mobile phones.” Matt York – Viewfinder – June 2006
By Videomaker‘s 20th anniversary, video had now reached a pinnacle – nearly all video produced was digital, no camcorder manufacturer was producing analog cameras and HD video was making waves on the horizon. The format wars of 1986 were about to repeat when companies began to debate how to deliver HD video to consumers via DVD: would Blu-ray or HD-DVD win out? Camcorders for consumers got so small that we began to break the category into full-size and minis, and then along came professional cams, a category we tickled but didn’t cover until then. Professional camcorders came down in price and a new term “prosumer” was created. We discovered that while many of our readers were still in the beginner to intermediate skill level, they were now aspiring to go higher than simply shooting home videos, many of you were beginning to shoot professional quality productions and we helped you along the way.
Green screen techniques were getting easier to shoot and light and the software was catching up fast. We told you about music creation software to get around copyright issues for online viewing, we introduced you to pro cams, elaborate stabilizing gear and a brand new camera type: a pocketcam from Pure Digital that hooked directly to a computer for file transfer. This was the prototype to the well-known “Flip” camera now owned by Cisco.
And that last hurdle – video from the computer to the internet to the living room? Videomaker began weekly vidcasts that you downloaded via RSS feeds to watch at your leisure. Through those early vidcast or podcast experiments, you learned how to make your own vidcasts, find your audience and begin new endeavors with online video. Video for the masses had finally arrived.
Not everyone learns the same way and we at Videomaker understand this. This is why we’ve been offering our community many different ways to learn video production. Besides publishing a magazine and producing a popular website, Videomaker has been offering Basic Production and Intensive hands-on workshops to professional and aspiring videographers from around the world. Due to affordable equipment, easier distribution, and better quality video, we’re finding many people hope to make money with video production and more people than ever before are coming to our workshops to learn. We also sell books and DVDs on our website; some are titles we produce, like our popular Tips & Tricks series, and our downloadable features, others are books or DVDs from other professionals on technique, theory or practices of interest to our video producing community.
In 2010 we launched Videomaker Plus, a special membership package for serious videographers. Membership in the exclusive Videomaker Plus program brings unlimited access to Videomaker‘s Tips & Tricks series, early access to Videomaker magazine before it hits store shelves, and direct access to Videomaker‘s video experts for advice on video-related issues.
Finally, this year, Videomaker began offering a weekly webinar on many subjects. They are similar to our workshops, and you don’t have to get on a plane to be here. We offer subjects from basic video production to starting your own video business, all designed to help videographers take their skills to the next level without leaving home.
What does the Future Hold?
In the past few years it’s been possible to make documentaries for personal distribution – something many couldn’t have done just a few years earlier. Today, everyone with a video camera – whether a pocketcam or a prosumer model or anyone who holds a mobile phone or even a small still camera, is a broadcaster in their own small way. Anyone who aspired to tell a story to the world could do so by shooting it, editing it, uploading it and sharing it – anywhere, anytime.
Behind the scenes, and possibly unknown to most of you, Videomaker was a big help in making this happen. We hold an important position in the world of product design and manufacture. The product reps listen to us and send us advance models to test and evaluate so they can fix problems before they get to the consumers. We’ve informed readers about technological changes on the horizon and advances we’re following, and what you need to know when the wind shifts. We were one of the first to tell you about the FCC’s ban on wireless mics in the 700MHz spectrum, warning you about used mics or knockoffs that might not work once the ban went into effect, and we kept pushing for better uploading abilities online for video producers.
Although Videomaker was the first magazine of its kind to launch, during its first two decades many other publications in this field joined the crowded space on the newsstands, but are no longer with us. The 21st century hasn’t been kind to paper publications, but Videomaker has been holding its own due to a solid understanding of its readership and a diversification of its distribution methods. We were one of the first publications to post our product on the Internet, launching Videomaker.com back in 1994, a true early adopter.
Speaking of early adopters, many of our readers were right there with us, exploring the changes in the world of video technology and might remember the products that have come and gone over the past quarter century. Read our associated story, Historical Showdown
Today, anyone can learn from Videomaker in any way they wish. From the traditional organic pages of a magazine, to the wonderful world of the web; from our on-site workshops to our multitude of training videos and DVDs; Videomaker has been with you on your video producing journey for 25 years, and we hope to continue to encourage, support and teach you well into the next quarter century.
Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning photographer & editor and has been Videomaker‘s Managing Editor since 2003.