1975 - 1979

A History of Home Video and Video Game Retailing

Fall 1975 – The Sony Betamax goes on sale in the U.S. The LV-1901 console, consisting of a SL-6200 video cassette recorder (VCR) and a 19" Sony Trinitron television set, retails for $2,495. A table-top recorder/player deck (the SL-7200) is marketed the following spring for $1,400. (Sony stopped offering the Betamax VCR as a consumer product in the U.S. in 1993 and ceased production of the device altogether in 2002.)

October 1977 – RCA begins selling the first VCR in the U.S. based on JVC's "vertical helical scan" (VHS) system. Manufactured by Matsushita and branded as "SelectaVision," the VBT200 retails for $1,000.

November 1977 – Magnetic Video, operating as Video Club of America, is the first company to provide theatrical motion pictures on home video. Company founder Andre Blay convinced Twentieth Century-Fox to license him 50 titles for sale directly to consumers. The cost of the license was $7.50 for each video sold, and Blay had to pay a $300,000 advance. Video Club of America marketed itself through a two-page ad in the November 26-December 2, 1977 edition of TV Guide (pages 48-49). The titles, which were available in both the Betamax and VHS formats, included Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Hello, Dolly!, M*A*S*H, Patton, The French Connection, The King And I, and The Sound Of Music. The videos are supposed to be for home use only, and not for rental. Membership in the club was $10.00 and the price of the videos was $49.95 each. Thirteen thousand people respond to the ad, and Blay recoups his initial investment in just two months.

December 1977 – George Atkinson launches the first video rental store, a 600-square foot storefront at 12011 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Atkinson was the proprietor of Home Theater Systems, a company that rented Super 8 movies and projectors for parties. He bought one Betamax and one VHS copy of each of the Magnetic Video titles through a third-party for $3.00 over cost. Atkinson announced the availability of the Fox titles for rent in a one-column-inch ad in the December 7, 1977 Los Angeles Times. (Previously, he had advertised "Video for Rent" – although he didn't have any videos.) In order to raise capital, Atkinson charges $50 for an "annual membership," $100 for a "lifetime membership," which provides the opportunity to rent the videos for $10 a day. Atkinson is threatened with a lawsuit for renting the videos, but quickly discovers that U.S. copyright law gives him the right to rent and resell videos he owns. [There is a question whether Atkinson was actually the first person to open a video rental store. Some believe that Arthur Morowitz, who started renting videos from a storefront in New York's Times Square around the same time that Atkinson began renting videos, was the first.]

1978 – Midstates Appliances and Supply Co. in Illinois "got stuck" with a large quantity of videos. It decides to rent them and creates the Video Movie Club of Springfield. The club charged a $25 membership fee and rentals were $5 for three nights. Video Movie Club of Springfield eventually evolves into Family Video, which becomes one of the largest video rental chains in the nation.

1978 – Movies Unlimited, which claimed to be the first store specializing in video, opens its doors at 6736 Castor Avenue (Castor and Knorr) in northeast Philadelphia. The store offered videos for sale and for a $5 to $10 fee, customers could "preview" the video before deciding whether to purchase the title. The store would operate in the same location for 27 years, until June 12, 2005, when it closed its doors due to the building being sold.

1979 – 20th Century Fox buys out Andre Blay for $7.5 million. Blay remains president of Magnetic Video for three more years.

September 1979 – George Atkinson announces that, after growing into 42 affiliated stores in less than 20 months, he would change the name of his business from Video Cassette Rentals to The Video Station and would begin franchising stores.

November 1979 – Columbia Pictures enters the home video market, releasing 20 films.

December 1979 – Fotomat began a nationwide rollout of videocassette rentals at its 3,700 outlets. Consumers could chose from 131 titles, which they could order over the phone for pick-up the following day.

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