THE INNOVATIVE BETAMAX
There are a number of reasons why Sony eventually lost out in the consumer marketplace with their Beta format. Experts and pundits alike can argue on the different points endlessly. Was it cassette size? Recording time or labeling? Licensing restrictions? Price? The movie rental industry? No discussion on Beta would be complete without an examination of the what would eventually become known as "The Legend of Betamax".


In 1975 Sony had the home video market all to themselves. There were a few stragglers with competing formats but they quickly fell by the wayside. Then RCA (or more correctly, Thompson Electronics) entered the picture. They wanted to put their name on this new recording medium and they wanted a longer recording time to go along with it, enough time to record the average football game. They approached Sony and asked if they could relabel and market their home video recorder in the USA under the RCA brand and could Sony make it a two hour unit instead of one (the Sony SL-7200 was currently capable of only one hour). This was one of those special moments in time, the ones that go down in history. Sony said no. Their official responded was that with the current video head and tape technology made a longer recording time undesirable. The video heads would need to be half as large and they didn't want to degrade the picture. (Lowering the speed to extend recording required smaller heads.) Another reason for stalling RCA was they had their hands full gearing up to meet the demands of the new Betamax, which was selling like gangbusters. (Machines production couldn't meet demand and neither could video tape manufacturing, Sony was working 24/7 doing both.) RCA was primarily a marketing company and they wanted badly to get in on the bonanza that they saw that was about to happen. After being politely turned down by Sony what were they going to do? It seems there was another format around that would record two hours on a single cassette. It had been experimented with by Sony but eventually discarded because is was deemed as being not user friendly and awkward, plus it was tough on tape. Since it had been thrown away by Sony it became fair game. A tiny appliance manufacturer called Matsushita decided to play around with it and bought the rights. RCA found this out and it was a marriage made in heaven. Never mind that it was big, bulky, ugly, cumbersome and inferior in almost every way to Beta, it had the one thing that RCA rightly saw as it's greatest asset. Longer recording time. RCA was a promoter and they knew that aimed properly, with lots of advertising, it could dig it's way a little into the home video market and they could make some money. (Keep in mind that monetary reward is what drives almost all companies. RCA marketed the inferior needle-in-groove video record player (SelectaVision ViceoDisc) years later knowing that it was doomed from the day of it's release (it promptly lost out to Laser discs). So RCA went after Matsushita. Could they make them a two hour machine and could they promote it in the USA as the SelectaVision? (So named because it was two speeds, recording one and two hours.) The answer was yes on all counts and the marketing war had begun. Click the picture for more or click here.