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Beta vs VHSImage Source


For many years I have heard the legend that

the porn industry played a crucial role in the victory of JVC's VHS over Sony's Betamax.


It resurfaced during the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray.

From Macworld:

Just as in the 1980s, when the Betamax and VHS video formats were battling it out for supremacy, the pornography industry will likely play a big role in determining which of the two blue-laser DVD formats ... will be the winner ...


From Wired:

Long before the battle between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, there was another home-video standards war that pitted Sony against another Japanese company, JVC. It was VHS vs. Betamax.

Ultimately, VHS won the battle, and tech lore has it that the porn industry played a big role in that victory. Sony reportedly wouldn’t let pornographic content be put on Betamax tapes, while JVC and the VHS consortium had no such qualms.


From Businessweek:

One oft-recalled explanation for the failure of Sony's Betamax videocassette format in the 1980s was the Japanese company's ambivalence towards producers of pornographic videos. By contrast, proponents of VHS, Betamax's rival, welcomed adult content with open arms and, the legend goes, caused Betamax's demise.


My question:
How much truth is behind this lore?
To what extend, if at all, did the porn industry contribut to VHS winning the format war?


Further reading material:
Cracked.com - 5 Ways Porn Created the Modern World

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All the research I've seen (the serious one, as apposed to lore), talks about VHS winning due to it's longer recording times. For example: here and here. A short, less technical explaination can be found here. –  Noam Weiss May 12 '11 at 10:34
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TV tropes article: The Rule Of First Adopters (Not productivity safe) –  Andrew Grimm May 12 '11 at 13:10
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While I cannot "source" this I will observe that in between the VHS/Beta race and the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD race a parallel technology took hold in the porn indusutry: The Internet. One might find it reasonable to believe that with the Internet as a preferred delivery channel the porn industry was less concerned with the DVD format issue. –  Cos Callis May 20 '11 at 14:44
    
@Andrew Grimm. +1 to your comment for the warning. –  TRiG Jul 27 '11 at 0:14
    
AFAIK, main consumer advantage of VHS over Beta was the possibility of having full feature movie (90+ minutes) on one cassette. Which IMO wouldn't be significant factor in case of porn. –  vartec Dec 12 '13 at 10:43
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2 Answers

TLDR: Porn was available on beta, but did not represent the majority of sales or rentals of cassettes.


Firstly, I'll point out that pornography was available on Betamax because it is claimed and disputed all over the net that it wasn't.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Playboy_videos:

The first videos released under the Playboy banner were issues of Playboy Video Magazine (also known as Playboy Video and Playboy Video Collectors Edition). Twelve issues were released in this series, from 1982 to 1987. Early volumes appeared on CED, laserdisc, and Japanese VHD, while all volumes appeared on Betamax and VHS. Issues contained content similar to the magazine;

Now how influential is the porn industry and is it big enough to have influenced the choice of VHS over BETA?

Wikipedia quotes this book as saying:

The 1979 Revision of the Federal Criminal Code stated that "in Los Angeles alone, the porno business does $100 million a year in gross retain volume".According to the 1986 Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, American adult entertainment industry has grown considerably over the past thirty years by continually changing and expanding to appeal to new markets, though the production is considered to be low-profile and clandestine.

This article quotes source: The Entertainment Merchant Association (US), Annual Report, 2009.

1986 Combined video rentals ($3.37 billion) and sales ($1.01 billion) eclipsed box office revenues ($3.78 billion) for first time.

According to this Forbes article:

In 1998, Forrester did publish a report on the online "adult content" industry, which it pegged at $750 million to $1 billion in annual revenue.

So around 1986 the value should be somewhere between $100 million and $1 billion which makes it still only a fraction of the $4.47 billion claimed above in 1986.

FACT: Porn was available on Betamax

FACT: There was a lot more porn produced on VHS than Betamax

It also appears that the porn is only a fraction of the market of video sales and rentals and therefore couldn't have been the key influencer.

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According to this the market share for Beta-VCRs had already shrunk to 25% in 1981. So it would be interesting to know if there was porn on Beta before the quoted "1982". –  Oliver_C Jun 1 '11 at 17:40
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I agree, at the time, most everything was available on VHS and Betamax had a much smaller showing on the market. This was due to the same thing that killed the IBM PS/2 computer, Sony tried to set a "standard" and charge everyone for using the standard. VHS format was readily available and did not cost your first born to manufacturer VHS player/recorders or the tapes. It had nothing to do with the porn industry. Betamax as it was a better system than VHS except the play length it's only defect. Every other aspect of the tape was superior to VHS, tape path had fewer bands and thus less friction/wear, tape stretching was less, tape size was significantly smaller, audio was recorded on 2 separate tracks where one of the 2 VHS tracks was actually recorded over top of the video! Sony wanted to profit from the sale of the players and tapes - everyone adopted VHS because it was cheaper. Porn had nothing to do with it, to think so is egotistical whomever started this RUMOUR. The facts speaks for themselves.

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Welcome to Skeptics! Please provide some references to support your claims. Don't merely show that these defects were true, but these were why people chose VHS. The facts will only speak for themselves if you provide them; at the moment it looks like just another rumour. –  Oddthinking Dec 12 '13 at 0:32
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