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Everything is impossible until it's not: September edition

Before Netflix, before streaming, two engineers working in secret discovered the key to home entertainment.


Everything is impossible — until it isn’t. At Strike, we’re looking back on disruptive moments that changed the world. From technology that has shaped our lives to feats of human strength and resilience that were never thought possible, every month we’ll bring you a moment in history that changed everything.

In a time of streaming wars, binge-watching, and unprecedented content consumption, most of us don’t remember a time before being able to access any film with a few clicks. But today’s streaming giants are built on one important moment of disruptive technology — it’s been 45 years since the VHS entered our lives and changed the way we consume entertainment forever. On September 9, 1976, the first VCR was introduced by the head of the JVC at the Okura Hotel — but up until then, it hadn't been an easy ride.

Setbacks and competition

You may have a pile of VHSs gathering dust in the corner of your cupboard, but there’s a reason why Bloomberg put the VCR in the top 85 most disruptive ideas in history. Not only did this technology go from cutting-edge to ubiquitous in (relatively speaking) a blink of an eye, it set the scene for today’s streaming giants. The competition had been fierce — everyone from Sony to Ampex to Panasonic had tried their hand at video recording systems, but none of them had reached a critical mass. Different companies had different formats that weren’t compatible, some models were only aimed at businesses, and nothing seemed to find a foothold.

And even the VHS we know and love almost didn’t make it to market — the commercial video recording industry in Japan faltered and JVC went through major budget cuts, which included putting the VHS project on the shelf. But two engineers continued to work on the project in secret, without funding. They made prototype after prototype and were shocked when they found out their rival, Betamax, has a prototype that was twice as big — and could only record for half as long. 

Finally, the VHS gained enough support to come out of the dark. More support was put into the programme and the first edition was introduced to the world 45 years ago at the Okura Hotel. The JVC HR-3300 VIDSTAR went to market a month later, under a much snappier name: the Victor HR-3300. 

When it first came out in the UK in 1978 a VCR cost a whopping £799 (which, if you adjusted for inflation, would be a staggering £3880)."

Becoming a household staple

The technology was originally only released in Japan — and when it first came out in the UK in 1978 a VCR cost a whopping £799 (which, if you adjusted for inflation, would be a staggering £3880).

Eventually, the price came down and it took the world by storm. By 1984, 10% of American households had a VCR — and by 2004, an astonishing 91% of homes in the US had one. And why not? For the first time, you could not only rent or buy films that you loved to watch whenever you want, but you could also record shows you might miss — or special events you’d want to watch again and again. To those of us used to finding all of the world’s entertainment in just a few clicks that may not seem too exciting, but there’s no denying it was a cultural revolution in its time — and set the scene for things to come. 

And though they may no longer be cutting-edge, the nostalgia around the VHS is going strong. Even as recently as 2014, when DVD players were thought to have made the technology obsolete, a third of homes still had a good old VCR. 

Continued dedication to innovation, even in the face of budget cuts, managed to change the way we recorded, watched, and consumed TV and movies forever. Your VCR and VHS may not still be your go-to for entertainment, but they were a definite cultural moment — and definitely fan favourites. 

And remember: Be kind, rewind.

We're always looking to dream bigger and find ways to make the impossible possible. Next month, we'll be back with another moment that changed everything.