In 2006, the last film by a major studio to be released on VHS was The History of Violence. Since then, the VHS has only had limited new releases, often in the form of marketing gimmicks. After all, nobody uses VHS tapes to watch films anymore now that DVDs and Blu-ray exist, right?
Well, that might not be strictly true. There is a small but dedicated fanbase that still loves their VHS tapes, and these avid collectors are keeping the market alive. We have seen resurgences in old, forgotten technology such as with vinyl records and polaroid cameras. Could the VHS be the next in line for a comeback?
A Fanbase Alive and Kicking
It might seem like the world forgot about the humble VHS tape, but this medium of entertainment viewing has a dedicated fanbase who use sites such as Facebook to connect with each other, sell and buy tapes and discuss their love of this old format.
Members boast of their vast collection of tapes. And while most are interested in ex-rental videos that once adorned the shelves of Blockbuster, others have their eyes set on obtaining obscure foreign and independent films that never made it into rental shops.
The internet and the rise of social media has allowed fans of the VHS to keep their niche hobby alive. Nowadays, even charity shops are unlikely to stock VHS tapes, and would more likely throw them away if they were donated rather than put them out for sale.
Part of the appeal for fans of VHS tapes is that many films that came out on VHS have never been re-released on upgraded formats – due to their limited box office reach and marginal quality – meaning that sourcing and watching these old tapes is the only way to watch certain films. These obscure titles have otherwise been lost to time, with no one sure which studio owned them, or the studios have no interest in re-releasing them.
Fans also claim that some of the direct-to-video or shot-on-video films were never meant to be viewed on DVD and that the footage was never meant to look “cleaned-up”, as this highlights mistakes such as bad makeup. They say that films should be watched as the director intended them, and that certain films should be played on VHS as it’s integral to the film-watching experience. This is especially prominent in horror films, a popular genre among VHS collectors, as it’s claimed that the non-perfect quality heightens the scariness.
VHS: The Next Vinyl?
One old format that has seen a huge resurgence over the last decade has been vinyl. After the introduction of CDs, vinyl records were banished to the more niche music shops on just a few shelves for the few remaining dedicated fans.
Today, however, vinyl records take pride of place across mainstream shops like HMV, and the fanbase is bigger and stronger than ever. Vinyl sales saw a 53% increase in sales from 2016 to 2017, and new record players have exploded on the market, and include modern-day additions like USB ports and the ability to transfer MP3s to a computer.
But what is it about vinyl that propelled it into the spotlight in the way VHS just hasn’t? Why aren’t DVD shops stocking VHS tapes for a clearly viable fanbase? Well, fans of vinyl records claim that the sound quality is better, and unmatched by modern-day formats like CDs and MP3. And it’s this distinction that puts vinyl in a different league than VHS. No matter how enthusiastic the fanbase, there are just too many drawbacks to the VHS as a medium to bump it into mainstream usage.
The Last VCR Player
The end of the VHS might seem like a lifetime ago, but it was only a few years ago that the last VCR player rolled out of the factory. In 2016, Japanese company Funai Electric manufactured its last VHS player, citing the reason as being the decline in sales, selling only 750,000 units in their final year.
DVDs topped VHS sales for the first time in 2001, and the inevitable decline of the VHS tapes and the VCR player were inevitable. Now the only way to obtain a VCR player is to hold on to the one you own or source one online through sites like eBay.
Could We See a Resurgence?
While the VHS has its fans, most people do not believe it will have a vinyl-like resurgence any time soon.
Josh Johnson, director of “Rewind This!” a documentary about VHS collection and preservation, acknowledges this. He believes that VHS collectors have more of a nostalgia for VHS, whereas fans of vinyl prefer the sound of them to more modern music-playing formats. And it’s this nostalgia that keeps them collecting, not because they genuinely believe that the VHS is a better format for home entertainment.