Funai Electric, the Japanese face of the familiar Sanyo brand, will shut down the last production line for video cassette recorders this month, ending the VHS phenomenon which, in the 1980s, disrupted the TV business, democratised entertainment and shifted its locus from the cinema halls to the home. The video cassette also kicked off the age of piracy, and it is strangely fitting that Funai will hit the stop button on the VCR just days after the takedown of Kickass Torrents, the premier storefront of the digital pirate network.
VHS — short for Video Home System — was released by JVC in the mid-1970s and within a few years, had beaten Sony’s competing Betamax format to spawn a huge ancillary network of distributors, stores, lending libraries and pirates. It dominated the video market until 1997, when the success of the DVD format ended its run. CDs had already put compact cassette and floppies in the shade, and plummeting sales of videotape spelled the end of magnetic media.
Five years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary caused a global furore by removing the term “cassette player”, presumably to make place for unnecessary neologisms like “fat finger” and “facepalm”. However, the fears of audio buffs were misplaced, and the compact cassette is still flourishing in cult niches like punk and death metal. Indeed, there is new hope as audio goes retro, with the resurgence of vinyl as fashion statement. However, video — especially in the new HD formats — requires much more bandwidth than audio, and this makes the revival of legacy media unlikely. For years, big screen cinema has been distributed on thumb drives. And now, it’s goodbye to the video library, that neighbourhood institution without parallel which, decades before Netflix, brought the entire gamut of cinema, from Tamil pulp to French avant garde, into middle class living rooms.