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Home video is a blanket term used for pre-recorded media that is either sold or rented/hired for home cinema entertainment. The term originates from the VHS/Betamax era, when the predominant medium was videotape, but has carried over into current optical disc formats like DVD and Blu-ray Disc and, to a lesser extent, into methods of digital distribution such as Netflix.
The home video business distributes films, telemovies and television series in the form of videos in various formats to the public. These are either bought or rented, then watched privately from the comfort of home by consumers. Most theatrically released films are now released on digital media, both optical (DVD or Blu-ray) and download-based, replacing the largely obsolete VHS (Video Home System) medium. The VCD format remains popular in Asia, though DVDs are gradually gaining popularity.
Prior to the arrival of home video as a popular medium in the late 1970s, most feature films were essentially inaccessible to the public after their original theatrical runs were over. Some very popular films were given occasional theatrical re-releases, some could be seen in urban revival houses and the screening rooms of a handful of archives and museums, and beginning in the 1950s most could be expected to turn up on television eventually, but interrupted by commercials and very possibly at an inconvenient or impossible viewing time.
Those who could afford such luxuries could buy a 16 mm or 8 mm film projector and rent or buy home-use prints of some cartoons, short comedies and brief "highlights" reels edited from feature films. In the case of the 16 mm format, most of these were available with an optical soundtrack, and even some entire feature films in 16 mm could be rented or, at a steep price, bought. 8 mm films almost never ran longer than ten minutes, and only a few were available with a magnetic soundtrack late in the life of the format; the rest were silent. The Super 8 film format, introduced in 1965, was marketed for making home movies but it also boosted the popularity of show-at-home films. Eventually, longer and longer edited-down versions of feature films were issued, increasingly with a magnetic soundtrack and in color, but they were quite expensive and served only a small niche market of very dedicated or affluent film lovers.
The Betamax and VHS home videocassette formats were not introduced until 1975 and 1976 respectively and it took several years, and substantial price drops, before they started to become a widespread household fixture. Film studios and video distributors assumed that consumers would not want to actually buy prerecorded videocassettes, just rent them, and that virtually all of the sales would be to video rental stores. Prices were therefore set very high. Eventually, it was realized that many people did want to build their own video libraries as well as rent, if the price was right, and that a title which had sold a few hundred copies at $99 might sell tens or even hundreds of thousands of copies at $19.99 or $9.99.
The first company to duplicate and distribute home video was Magnetic Video, established as an audio and video duplication service for professional audio and television corporations in Farmington Hills, Michigan, USA, in 1968, although Avco's 1972 Cartrivision system preceded Magnetic Vision's expansion into home video by a few years.
Until the mid-1980s feature film theatrical releases such as The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, or Casablanca were the mainstay of video marketing and helmed by large studios like Universal, 20th Century Fox and Disney. At that time, not many consumers owned a VCR, and those who did tended to rent rather than buy videos. Toward the end of that decade, a rise of smaller companies began creating special interest videos, also known as "non-theatrical programming" and "alternative programming," and "selling-through" to the consumer.
"Home video is an exciting new area of opportunity for adventuresome publishers willing to produce new programs. Today's limitations within the video marketplace may be gone tomorrow. More people are finding innovative ways to create visually stimulating entertainment and information for the video tape player... Like contemporary book publishing, you can produce and distribute yourself to very narrow markets or seek broad-based distributors for mass-oriented appeal"
Special Interest Video is a huge and steadily increasing venue for products exposing new and old subjects through the medium of camera and tape. It is a new form of publishing, a specialty line of products for vertical "readership" and an exploding territory of subjects, audiences and new uses. Six years ago, dog handling videos, back pain videos and cooking videos were suppositions on a drawing board. Three years ago these took life. Now, along with golf and skiing tapes these S.I. videos are beginning to claim a marketshare. The wild part of this new video publishing adventure is the wide diversity of support with which each product comes to the market. New technology has changed the territory.
"Cambridge Associates puts the growth of the special interest genre at close to 600% in the last five years, to $625 million in supplier revenues last year."
Television series were typically not released on home video until the late 1990s, when DVD began to supplant VHS as the dominant medium. VHS required viewers to watch each episode on the tape in succession (or spend time winding the tape looking for the episode the viewer wanted); DVD and its solid-state, all-digital technology allowed instant access to any particular episode. As home viewer bandwidth expanded in the 2000s (decade), companies such as Netflix and Hulu began releasing films and television episodes on the Internet; ironically, this eventually gave rise to binge-watching, the concept of watching multiple episodes of a TV series in succession.
A time period is usually allowed to elapse between the end of theatrical release and the home video release to encourage movie theater patronage and discourage piracy. Home video release dates usually follow five or six months after the theatrical release, although recently more films have been arriving on video after three or four months. (Christmas and other holiday-related movies are generally not released on home video until the following year when that holiday is celebrated again.)
Many television programs are now also available in complete seasons on DVD. It has become popular practice for discontinued TV shows to be released to DVD one season at a time every few months, and active shows to be released on DVD after the end of each season. Prior to the television DVDs, most television shows were only viewable in syndication, or on limited 'best of' VHS releases of selected episodes. These copyrighted movies and programs generally have legal restrictions on them preventing them from (amongst other things) being shown in public venues, shown to other people for money, or copied for other than fair use purposes (although such ability is limited by some jurisdictionas and media formats: see below).
After the passage of the Video Recordings (Labelling) Act of 1985 in the United Kingdom, videotapes and other video recordings without a certification symbol from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) on their covers - or on the tapes themselves - were no longer allowed to be sold or displayed by rental shops. These tapes are called "Pre-Certs" (e.g., Pre-certification tapes). Recently these tapes have generated a cult following, due to their collectability.
There is great controversy about recent attempts to increase protections for rights owners using technical means such as Macrovision and CSS, and by the enactment of laws such as the DMCA, potentially hindering otherwise-lawful "fair-use" rights.