Viewfinder: VHS: A Successful Format

The resilient videotape format persists
beyond expectations.

Japanese product planners estimate that a consumer electronic product will
last eight years. VHS tape, however, has mocked these modern marketing projections.
It was developed in Japan by JVC in 1976 and has been the predominant consumer
videotape format for over 20 years. Currently, over 80% of American homes
have a VHS VCR. It is almost amazing that VHS has lasted this long. There
are several reasons for its popularity and I believe they hold the secret
to its continued dominance of the market.

The reason that VHS has lasted 22 years is that
it has a huge installed base of very inexpensive hardware and software.
I have seen VHS VCRs for as little as $90. The reason for this is that there
is an abundance of VHS manufacturing capacity. There are hundreds of factories
that pump out VHS blank tape and VCRs.

Ninety percent of American homes have at least one VHS player; if we want
viewers to easily view our programs, we must make VHS copies. There is no
better way for a videographer to distribute a video program. Although full-size
VHS camcorders represent only about 15% of all camcorder sales, the VHS
format prevails as the video distribution medium of choice.

I remember how swiftly in the early 1980s VHS
rental stores sprung up around the country. It is no wonder that the majority
of people own a VHS VCR. Nearly every town in the country has a video rental
store with hundreds of titles to choose from.

The quality of the video signal on a VHS tape
is perfectly acceptable for any TV viewer. Super-VHS, Hi8 and DV are far
superior, but the market seems to prefer VHS for watching videos.

The blank media costs for VHS are the lowest
of all possibilities. It is a real bargain at as little as one dollar per
hour. Compared to the new media of hard disk space and removable digital
storage, VHS is very inexpensive.

DVD is the latest format to arrive on the scene
to threaten VHS. Its shortcomings are its lack of recording ability and
its very small–though rapidly growing–supply of pre-recorded movies.

What this means to our readers is that VHS will
probably be with us for a while. Before you invest in new hardware, you
must always ask yourself, "How long will this be useful?" Investment
in Betamax video and 8-track audio tape players are two examples that many
people regret.

What would the next video format need to "topple"
VHS?


  • It must be smaller (cheaper to mail, easier
    to carry and take up less shelf space).
  • It must be digital (the whole world is moving
    away from analog, which suffers from generation loss). Digital formats
    can store more (text files and computer software applications) than video
    and audio.
  • It must be durable (VHS tape wears out after
    as few as 30 passes through the VCR).

There is of course the possibility that, even
if a format with all of these attributes comes along (DVD or DV tape are
both candidates), it will never gain the market penetration that VHS has.
Too many companies offering too many formats often leads to a dispersal
of user preferences. This makes it difficult for viewers to easily view
your video. Hold onto your VHS equipment–it will probably serve you for
many years to come.

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