This entry is trivia, which is cool and all, but not a trope. On a work, it goes on the Trivia tab.

Keep Circulating the Tapes

"I don't like the idea of something existing if I can't get a copy of it."

There once was a show. You know, that show. It was a really good show. Or maybe it was something else. Still, you'd love to relive the memories, and share it with your friends.

There's just one problem: It's impossible.

Watch and record reruns? Of course you would...if it were on.

Buy the DVD? You'd already have it on pre-order...if it existed.

Watch it online? You'd bookmark it in a second...until the company that owns the series threatens the video provider with legal consequences unless they remove the content.

Netflix? Hulu? iTunes? Not there.

Torrents? Hope you have a good, up-to-date anti-malware program on, or the ISP does not block access to the torrent website (in countries such as the UK), or that the ISP isn't doing deep packet inspection and killing torrent traffic (as happening in certain Asian countries).

What's a fan to do? It isn't that you're setting out to break copyright'd be more than happy to pay to acquire it legally! At the same time, though, you realize that the market is too niche for a super-deluxe bells-and-whistles compilation DVD to be justifiably profitable... no matter how many online petitions your forum sends.

Keep Circulating The Tapes (a phrase attributed to Mystery Science Theater 3000) is an option of last resort. It's when a show you like is denied to you, except through methods of questionable legality shady file-sharing sites, tape trading/buying... it's either that, or the show's likely to be lost outside of fan recordings and film company archives. It's also the rule rather than the exception for video games and other non-simple media, to the point where the Abandonware concept and emulation were created to bring common sense into the situation (the Virtual Console, PlayStation Network, GameTap, Steam,, and to a smaller extent Xbox Live Arcade are finally starting to remedy this situation with games, but it's still a long way to go).

Try not to be angry that you can get the complete Brady Bunch Variety Hour, Van-Pires, The PJs, Robot and Monster, Making Fiends, Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place and T.J. Hooker on DVD but not Muppet Babies, Our Miss Brooks, Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones?, The Raccoons, Recess, KaBlam!, Fame (post-season 2), Shining Time Station, Perfect Strangers (post-season 2), Murphy Brown (post-season 1), Fillmore!, The Hogan Family, Sheep in the Big City, Roundhouse, Kids Incorporated, Free Spirit, The Replacements, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi (in its entirety), You Can't Do That on Television, or the original cut of Frosty the Snowmannote  (among others).

After steam stops shooting out of your ears, the question you're asking is probably... why? Well, a typical answer is that the television companies (correctly or incorrectly) don't think there's enough of a market for it to be worth releasing them, but it's not always their fault... directly. An all-too-common cause is music rights. Mission Hill halfway fell victim to this with the show released to DVD, but most of the popular music was omitted and replaced with Countdown Singers-esque soundalikes. Baby Blues wasn't as lucky; its DVD release may never see the light of day due to the theme being "It's All Been Done" by the Barenaked Ladies. Royalties play a large part in it.

...this requires some explanation.

The tape circulators could've probably hazarded a guess, but absolutely nobody else saw the TV-on-DVD boom coming. TV on VHS had been tried, sure, but it wasn't even barely successful for even music-compilation heavyweights like Time-Life and Columbia House for several reasons:

  1. The cost of the tapes.
  2. The outrageous amounts of shelf space needed for even one season of a series; a 22-episode season of an hour-long series needed 11 VHS tapes to fit on, though 2-per-tape was the standard even for 22-minute-without-commercials shows (for which 5 episodes could fit on a two-hour tape), which even carried over into some DVD releases. This despite the fact that a VHS tape is capable of holding as much as 8 hours of footage on it.
  3. The fragile nature of the format, allowing for a $300 investment to be ruined by a hungry VCR or a fridge magnet.
  4. Up to the early 2000s, television syndicators did all they could to keep the public from buying a television series, basically so channels would continue to see reruns as valuable and pull in ratings. As a result, only PBS documentaries were offered.

(It might be noted that this describes the US much more so than the UK, perhaps due in part to British Brevity meaning that a single series doesn't take up as much shelf space, and perhaps due to the lesser spread of cable TV. Nevertheless other reasons have brought this trope into force for many shows.)

Even after the first wave started (thank HBO, specifically The Sopranos, for popularizing this wonderful thing of ours), they didn't sell nearly as well as they do now because of their frankly outrageous prices compared to today's. Additionally, copyright law is low, spooky voodoo, and licensing something like a song for your show, licensing it for reruns, and licensing it for home video are not the same thing. And nobody wanted to pay more money for something that they would, in all likelihood, never use ("Television shows? On home video? By the season? Nonsense."). So here we are.

These situations are usually caused by licensing issues (Performance Licensing and Reproduction Licensing). In a nutshell, performance licensing is much easier to obtain (the licensing agencies get 3% of the DVD's revenue, in exchange for letting the distributors use a performance). Reproduction licensing is much more difficult to obtain, and can often involve long drawn-out negotiations with rights holders (sometimes many at once, and much worse if it was an older work that used many unlicensed tracks or clips). There are ways to get around these snags - cover versions of songs are considerably easier to get clearance for, and offending clips can sometimes be removed without impacting the narrative. Of course, if the show has no song rights issues, and the copyright holder's threatening legal action over your online copies of a show they haven't allowed you to buy legally... resume violent rage.

Compare No Export for You and Missing Episode. May also happen as the net result of Screwed by the Network, especially while new episodes of said show are airing elsewhere. Whatever the reason, if the show has a small but sizable fanbase, these fans turn to the Internet when any of these occurs, and if there's no official DVD release... well, their cries for help are heard by sympathizers and this Trope results. See also The Shelf of Movie Languishment and the Lost Media Wiki.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: When posting a show, if you know where the show can be illegally obtained, don't post it. Just say that copies exist out there on the Internet, and leave it at that. (Think of it this way: if the link becomes too popular, it might get taken down.)

And please accept our apologies if you thought this trope was about a certain creepy woman in a well.


    Professional Wrestling 
  • In the pre-VCR/cable television era, most local or small regional promotions that were fortunate enough to have their own syndicated television programs have been erased to history. First, videotape (prior to the 1980s) was an expensive commodity, and promotions that were able to afford it simply reused the tapes when recording their material. Second, due to (perhaps) a perceived lack of future rerun potential, many promotions and/or television stations destroyed the tapes (or more likely, films) once they aired or wore out, their (wrestling) companies ceased their promotional activities or other reasons. This means that with the exception of those having foresight or individuals who recorded the show and still have the tapes stashed away somewhere the history of these promotions no longer exist in video form, much less in broadcast quality (due to derogation).
    • World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is a notable exception, having hundreds of thousands of hours of videotapes and films of classic programming available for broadcast or on-demand download; this includes programming from promotions the McMahon family has acquired the rights to, including the NWA(some of it, as it still exists independent of McMahon), WCW, ECW and AWA. They've even got some wrestling footage from DuMont! But even in this case, it is possible that individual episodes of syndicated programs (especially those prior to the late 1970s) have been recorded over or otherwise have been destroyed for various reasons. There is also some footage WWE seems dead set on not using, such as Smokey Mountain Wrestling.
    • That said, the sheer amount of footage would, sadly, make DVD releases of television shows all but impossible. In 1998, among the main shows alone, WCW, WWF and ECW had over 300 hours of footage. This would make even a volume release of the year impractical, even divided among promotion.
    • In addition to this, the NWA itself has its "Classics On Demand" service, which helps but still doesn't begin to cover all the content its member promotions have produced.
    • This also applies to Owen Hart matches, as his widow refuses to allow WWE to use his image; and Chris Benoit matches, due to his murder-suicide.
    • If you want to see a Ring of Honor that took place before 2010, well, be patient. Tapes do exist but between losing a distributor and switching DVD companies, you're not going to get many from ROH itself. If you're unlucky enough not to find a seller of any particular show you may be lucky enough to able to piece together enough of it through compilation DVDs dedicated to specific wrestlers, which ROH didn't stop selling with older footage, and their web videos such as "Throw Back Thursday", which is free to anyone with internet. Their ringside members subscription service and year of DVDs are starting to make the process easier too. Still don't have everything, but patience.
    • SHIMMER found continued bulk orders of DVDs cost prohibitive compared to focusing on the release of new ones, leading to shows gradually reaching this status, unless a retail version hit shelves. The ClickWrestle website alleviated this once they gained access to SHIMMER's video library, as did WWN Live, the latter having sister promotion SHINE and ROH's sister FIP.
    • The new WWE Network which launched in February 2014 promises to make a large part of the WWE archives, along with the purchased tape archives listed above from other circuits available for their small subscription fee, including Benoit matches with a content disclaimer beforehand. How much of the archive will be available however is still yet to be found out.

  • Transformers:
    • The holy grail for many a Western fan is the original G1 Megatron. Because he transforms into a realistic Walther P38 replica, Western toy gun laws have ensured the figure will never see an official rerelease. While he is more commonly reissued in Japan, imports tend to glue an orange plug into the barrel (if the country doesn't outright deem it illegal).
    • Some G1 toys are especially difficult to find intact on eBay, such as Prowl, Mirage, Sunstreaker and Swoop, owing to the weight of the die-cast parts on the plastic they're attached to. Even worse, reissues of these particular toys are unlikely as the molds are either lost or destroyed.
    • And then you have those toys unfortunate enough to have Gold Plastic Syndrome. Almost no reissues (let alone ones that fix the issue) have been made for any of them, and as such even the ones already out are one day going to collapse into fragments of shattered plastic.

Alternative Title(s): Circulating The Tapes, Circulate The Tapes