Prior to the arrival of home video as a popular medium, 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 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. During this era, it was also the norm that television programs could only be viewed at the time of broadcast. Viewers were accustomed to the fact that there was no normal way to record TV shows at home and watch them whenever desired.
It was possible to purchase 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 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 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, edited-down versions of feature films were issued, increasingly with a magnetic soundtrack and in color. But, these 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 introduced in 1975 and 1976 respectively, taking several years and reducing in cost before they started to become a widespread household fixture. Film studios and video distributors assumed that consumers would not want to buy prerecorded videocassettes, just rent them. They also felt that virtually all of the sales would be to video rental stores, setting prices appropriate to this as a business model. 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 found 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 in 1977. Magnetic Video was established in 1968 as an audio and video duplication service for professional audio and television corporations in Farmington Hills, Michigan, United States, although Avco's 1972 Cartrivision system preceded Magnetic Vision's expansion into home video by a few years.
Special-interest video production
Until the mid-1980s feature film theatrical releases such as The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane and 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 market share. 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.