Though most would agree that it was already a relic, Sony’s Betamax video tape Tuesday officially became an artifact suited to a museum when the company announced on its Japanese-language website that it will stop making it in March of next year.
The company stopped making the Betamax videocassette recorder in 2002, though it continued to make the tapes for die-hard fans.
Sony virtually launched what we know today as home video and binge-watching when it introduced the Betamax tapes and recorders forty years ago, technology that allowed people to easily record TV shows and movies at home.
"I remember watching Michael Jackson's Thriller on Betamax. It represents the time when we were just beginning to watch things on demand,” recalled BBC video editor Pete Doherty.
"If you missed a program on TV before that, you just had to wait for the repeat,” he said.
The revolutionary new technology changed that. It also changed copyright law when Universal Studios, threatened by piracy, sued Sony for copyright infringement in a case that made it to the US Supreme Court. The 1984 “Betamax case” brought a landmark ruling that gave people the right to record TV shows for later viewing.
But by this time Sony had lost market share to JVC, which launched its own videotape format, VHS, a year after Betamax came out. Despite lower quality, VHS recorders became the industry standard, as they were cheaper and could store more, reported The Los Angeles Times in 2002. Eventually, VHS was pushed aside by the DVD in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and later the Blu-ray Disk, which ultimately gave way to online streaming today.
Betamax tape sales peaked in 1984, reports Agence France-Presse, when about 50 million cassettes were shipped.