Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

By Brian Winston | Go to book overview
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7

TELEVISION SPIN-OFFS AND REDUNDANCIES

SPIN-OFFS AND REDUNDANCIES: VCRs, CDs et al.

This book is not focused on how manufacturing and production sectors progress after a given technology reaches a launch platform for diffusion. The industrial and cultural formations which grew up around the expansion of television, the production phase in the model, are largely outside our scope; on the other hand, spin-offs, which in the case of television could, for example, include certain non-broadcast uses of the cathode ray tube, television recording methods and new standards for the television signal, are not. The most important non-broadcast uses of the tube have been in connection with computing and this will therefore be dealt with in Part III. Here let us deal with a spin-off which has come to be called, in distinction to television, ‘video’; that is, videotape and all the domestic devices, the competitive technologies and the further spin-offs it has spawned.

Of all the new media technologies now available the home videocassette recorder has proved to be the most significant. Overshadowed by the enormous public relations exercise mounted first by the world’s cable and satellite interests and then by proponents of home computing and the Internet, VCR growth has gone, by comparison, almost unnoticed; yet between 1980 and 1995 the number of VCRs increased, in the US, from 1.8 million to 86 million. Ninety per cent of all households with television had one by 1995. Each of these homes was renting a video nearly every week, over 4000 million transactions per annum in a $10,000 million market (Veronhis Suhler 1996:172, 176). No device has been adopted more quickly even though it took five years, from 1974 when VCRs were first freely available until 1979, for sales to become significant. That year, as in 1962 for the colour televisions, nearly half a million units were sold. By 1981, the 1.3 million VCR sales matched the 1.3 million television set sales of 1964. Again, in 1983, more than 4 million VCRs marched with the nearly 5 million colour sets sold in 1966. In 1984 nearly 8 million units went into American homes—far more than the number of television sets sold in 1967, colour having peaked as a

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