Surrounded by so much video technology, it’s easy to forget that video hasn’t always been a part of our world. In fact, the entire concept of “video” — starting with broadcast television and running through today’s landscape of camcorders, VCRs and DVRs — is barely 60 years old!
Over those 60 years, some pretty amazing changes have occurred. Video has evolved from grainy, barely recognizable pictures in a laboratory into arguably the most successful and pervasive communications medium that the world has ever seen. And if you doubt the impact that video has on our lives, just take a look at the current Nielsen Media Research statistics for the most popular form of video – television.
There’s a watched television on in the average American household nearly 8 hours out of every day! And it’s been like that – not just for years – but for decades.
As humans, we have self-selected our entertainment system of choice and since the first commercial broadcast TV program hit the airwaves that choice has clearly been to watch video.
That first US commercial broadcast started out with (it figures) a commercial. On July 1, 1941 the first FCC authorized broadcast opened with a 10-second “Bulova” watch commercial. The networks made a whopping $7 profit on the first ad, and never looked back.
Color didn’t come to America’s TV sets until 13 years later on January 1, 1954 with the first color coast to coast broadcast – the Rose Parade from Pasadena, CA.
Older readers will still remember how families used to gather around the TV to watch with amazement the early color broadcast programs like Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and the classic western Bonanza.
The technology that would eventually lead to the current “camcorder generation” — the VTR or video tape recorder – also was developed nearly 50 years ago.
That’s right, the first functioning video tape recorder came into existence half a century ago. Developed by the Ampex corporation, the first commercial use was to tape delay black & white television programs from the East Coast, for playback in other time zones.
Many historians regard that 1963 presidential campaign between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy as the first election “won or lost” via video technology.
Nixon appeared in America’s living rooms wearing a dark suit and white shirt (a serious contrast challenge for the TV cameras.) while “President to be” JFK wore a pastel blue shirt and lighter toned jacket making him appear much more camera friendly even on the black & white sets of the day. For evidence of how long lasting this particular video lesson turned out to be – watch the next edition of Meet the Press or a similar political talking heads show and notice how many politicians are still dressing for the camera in pastels rather than white shirts even today.
We love our VCRs. For proof, check out at the following statistics: according to the Television Bureau of Advertising in 1975 there were already 8.5 million homes receiving cable TV and NO homes with VCRs. In 1988 fully half of American homes owned VCRs – and by 2003, VCR penetration had reached over 90% with just 74 million homes receiving cable TV versus a whopping 98 Million homes equipped with VCRs. We not only love our video, we want to capture it, keep it, and re-watch it over and over.
In VHS’ peak sales year – 2001 – there was enough VHS tape stock manufactured to reach from the earth to the moon more than 987 times.
In 1983, Sony introduced the first consumer video camcorder, and by doing so, created the spark that would ignite the “homemade” video revolution. The first camcorders were large, bulky, and expensive. None of which mattered to a world destined to fall in love with the idea of “do it yourself” video. Two years later Sony would introduce the 8mm format, and JVC would bring out VHS-C – both designed to help make camcorders smaller and more consumer friendly.
DVD players started selling in Japan in 1996 and followed in the US in 1997. Today, digital video is sweeping the old analog formats away with digitally based camcorders outselling analog models by an ever-wider margin.
In 2002 annual world production of DVD surpassed VHS cassettes. And in 2003, DVD-Video sales increased to 12.1 billion while VHS sales dropped to 2.4 billion.
As these facts (and many others we could have listed here) demonstrate the world of video has come a long, long way in just 60 short years. And the pace of change is clearly accelerating. Developments like TiVo, the first commercial hard-disc based video recorder – the continued development of streaming video via the internet – and the rapid rise of digital video editing and content delivery will continue to change the way video is made, stored, edited and watched.
But what won’t likely change is our cultural fascination with video. And as a reader of Videomaker Magazine, it’s also clear that with ever more affordable and powerful video creation tools like those we cover monthly right in this magazine, more and more of us will also keep making it!
Bill Davis writes, shoots, edits, and does voiceover work for a variety of corporate and industrial clients.