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Home videoHome video, as a medium, encompasses pre-recorded videos owned or rented by consumers for viewing in their homes on their own schedule— to put it laconically, video at home. Thanks to home video, viewers no longer have to visit the cinema during a film's theatrical run or stay by the television during a broadcast controlled by the network.
The Blockbuster Age of Hollywood first brought videos into viewers' homes on videocassettes note containing video recordings on magnetic tape. In the videotape format war, Video Home System (VHS) eventually won out over Betamax. The Rule of First Adopters contributed to this victory. At first, videocassette recorders (VCRs) weren't widely adopted by the average consumer; they were expensive in the mid-1970s, but that changed by the late 1980s.
The first Optical Disc format, LaserDisc, was also introduced during this time period. Even though its sound and picture quality exceeded VHS, it didn't achieve the same widespread adoption in most of the world. LaserDisc brought about many features that remain common, such as the Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition, commentaries, and other bonus features. The Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) format quickly overtook LaserDisc in the The '90s, though it competed with VCR since VHS tapes have the benefit of recording onto them.
Another format war in the early 2000's saw Blu-ray emerge victorious as the High Definition home video format. In 2004, Disney became one of the first studios to announce their support of the format over Toshiba's HD DVD.Blu-ray . During the brief period of 2006-2008 when HD DVD and Blu-ray both existed, Paramount was the first studio to release titles on both formats— but only for about a year before announcing they would exclusively support HD DVD. They were one of the only supporters; other studios soon dropped HD DVD and Toshiba stopped manufacturing the players in 2008.
In the 2010s, non-physical home video releases emerged, including digital purchases, video-on-demand services, and video streaming.
The last VCR manufacturer ended production in 2016.
Home video distributionHome video distribution basically involves securing the rights to distribute a work in a particular home video format, converting that work into that format, and getting the resulting product into viewers' homes. This process is carried out by home video distributors. Distributors can be standalone companies that license works created by others, or they may be a distribution arm for the studio that makes those works. For instance, The Walt Disney Company distributes home videos of films created by its animation studios through Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
In the early days of home video, a motion picture could only be released on home video after it had been broadcast on television. Interestingly, the home video revolution had roots as an anti-analog piracy system. Why would consumers pay triple digits for a shoddy-quality pirated film recorded from the TV broadcast, maybe full of commercial breaks and network edits, when they could rent or own a legal copy for double digits?
Home video distributors have sometimes distinguished titles for sale from titles for rental through their packaging. For instance, 20th Century-Fox Video rental tapes were packaged in black, boxy Amaray clamshells; titles for sale used a unique packaging which became colloquially known as the "Fox Box". In the early 1980s, Disney used blue cases (rentals) and white cases (sales) in part to make it easy to determine if dealers were renting out titles meant for consumer sales or making duplicates on standard black VHS tapes.
A home video may begin with a copyright and anti-piracy notice, and this warning may be unskippable. Nevertheless, some works only exist today thanks to consumers who recorded, copied, and circulated the tapes. Unlike VHS's weak copy protection, Region Coding on optical discs can thwart copying or even playing them, and they may utilize Digital Rights Management because Digital Piracy Is Evil (... or is it?).
For films originally released in cinemas, the "release window" between the theatrical release and the home video release varies with the intent of making profit through multiple venues. Some works are created specifically for home video release, or may get a change of plan during production. These are usually referred to as Direct-to-Video or straight-to-DVD/straight-to-Blu-ray.
Some of the Names to Know in Anime act as home video distributors for anime films and series in addition to licensing, translating, and producing dubs.
Names to know in home videoThe "Big Five" major film studios— Disney, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros.— all have their own home video distribution arms, but home video didn't start with just studio-owned distributors.
Magnetic Video and 20th Century Fox
Without Magnetic Video Corporation, home video likely wouldn't have gotten off the ground. Magnetic Video was the first home video distributor for theatrical motion pictures that consumers could purchase, not just rent, on Betamax or VHS.
The company was established in 1968 as an audio duplication facility in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, Michigan by an ambitious guy named Andre Blay. Blay wanted to duplicate movies on videocassette, but not only was the technology not advanced enough yet, the major studios were skeptical because of possible analog piracy. However, one fateful day in August 1977, Blay reached an agreement with the financially-strapped 20th Century Fox to license and distribute 50 of their films. The VHS format was introduced in the United States on August 23 after previously being available overseas. In November 1977, Magnetic Video began their Fox VHS and Betamax releases.
Fox wasn't the only company Magnetic Video made deals with. As their success grew, they began distributing films from other studios. In the United States alone, Magnetic Video produced over 400 different releases from 1977 to 1982.some releases They launched Magnetic Video Sports and a LaserDisc division in 1981, and distributed films by United Artists Corporation (some of which were originally distributed by Warner Bros.). They had international branches— Magnetic Video UK, Magnetic Video Australia, and a South Pacific branch. Magnetic Video was also a tape duplicator for early releases by Paramount Home Video and MCA Videocassette Inc.
Magnetic Video Corporation was purchased by 20th Century Fox in 1979. After Andre Blay left the company in late 1981 to form Blay Video, Magnetic Video adopted the name of its parent company and became 20th Century-Fox Video. Around the same time, it began a rental program called the Video Rental Library which grew to include titles in the Star Wars, Rocky, James Bond, and Dollars Trilogy franchises.
20th Century-Fox Video soon merged with CBS Video Enterprises to become CBS/Fox Video.
The CBS/Fox Company, better known as simply CBS/Fox Video, was the successor to Magnetic Video (as 20th Century-Fox Video) and CBS Video Enterprises.
In the summer of 1982, CBS Video Enterprises had recently split from Metro-Goldwyn-MayerMGM when CBS and Fox merged their home video distribution to form CBS/Fox Video.
In addition to many of Magnetic Video's earlier clients, CBS/Fox Video made a deal with TriStar Pictures, a joint venture between CBS, Columbia Pictures, and HBO.note In the mid-'80s, CBS/Fox Video was fairly aggressive with markdowns, beginning with their "Five Star Collection" promotions in 1986. For a brief period in 1987, they were the official duplicator for future parent company Walt Disney's home videos before VCA/Technicolor acquired their duplication facilities that July.
CBS/Fox Video established two sub-labels, both discontinued by 1991: after 1991
- Key Video handled drive-in/B-movie fare, classic and made-for-TV movies, and "low-profile" films from Fox, UA and Lorimar.
- Playhouse Video handled children's/family titles, including: CBS-owned Dr. Seuss projects, The Muppets titles, the Planet of the Apes films, and the first Doctor Who tapes released in America.
In March 1991, a major reorganization gave Fox greater control over the company's operations, and FoxVideo was launched to handle the distribution of the company's library. Meanwhile, CBS began releasing their own products under the CBS Video label, with FoxVideo handling distribution. CBS/Fox was relegated to third-party content, such as BBC Video releases.
In 1995, FoxVideo was renamed 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The FoxVideo and CBS/Fox labels continued to be used until 1998, when Fox acquired CBS' remaining stake in the venture. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment became a Disney company with their March 2019 acquisition of 21st Century Fox, leading to yet another name: 20th Century Studios Home Entertainment.
MGM/CBS and MGM/UA Home Video
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), formerly one of the "Big Five" before the Fall of the Studio System, established their home video division in 1979 as MGM Home Video, but did not release any videocassettes under this name. Instead, MGM Home Video formed a partnership with CBS Video Enterprises called MGM/CBS Home Video.
Back in 1973, MGM had sold its film distribution division to United Artists (UA). In 1981, MGM merged with the then-bankrupt United Artists and formed MGM/UA Entertainment Co., the biggest major movie studio combination at the time. At the end of the year, MGM/CBS introduced its rental program, "First Run Home Video Theater"; its first title was Tarzan, the Ape Man.
In 1982, MGM and CBS parted ways; CBS partnered with 20th Century-Fox Video to form CBS/Fox Video, and the former MGM/CBS company was renamed MGM/UA Home Video. The split caused a problem with MGM's rental-only program as one of the titles, S.O.B., was a CBS release that was yet to become a sale title at the time of the split. However, pre-1981 United Artists releases were licensed to CBS/Fox Video for a while due to a previous agreement between United Artists and Fox from back when the company was known as Magnetic Video.
In 1986, Ted Turner acquired the pre-1986 MGM library, and MGM/UA signed a deal with Turner Entertainment to continue releasing the library on video. Following MGM's purchase in 1990 by corrupt Italian financier Giancarlo Paretti's Pathé Communications note , MGM/UA Home Video struck a deal for Warner Home Video to distribute their titles on home video. Turner's holdings were purchased by Time Warner and the MGM library moved to Warner Home Video in 1996. The company was renamed MGM Home Entertainment in 1998. The deal between Warner Bros. and MGM was originally set to end in 2003, but MGM bought themselves out of it in 2000 (primarily so they could begin releasing titles inherited from their acquisition of Orion Pictures) and gave up home video rights to Warner Home Video for the Turner-owned MGM/UA films.
After MGM's purchase by Sony and other investors in 2006, the MGM library was released through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. In 2006, MGM struck a new deal with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, and twice renewed it— until Disney acquired Fox's parent company. When the Fox deal expired in June 2020, MGM elected not to make a deal with Disney, and MGM's home media distribution moved to Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
MCA/Universal Home Video
MCA acronym took full ownership of Universal Pictures in 1962. Like Magnetic Video, MCA saw potential in the home video revolution; however, MCA's focus at the time was on videodiscs rather than the videocassettes that interested Magnetic Video. They branched out of music and began their videodisc division, MCA DiscoVision. They became the first company to release this format for the consumer market— even marketing the format as "MCA DiscoVision" (or simply "DiscoVision"). After Pioneer Electronics bought out the majority stake in the format, it was renamed to "LaserVision", then again to its most recognizable name: "LaserDisc".
MCA, which had purchased the patents for the "Reflective Optical Videodisc System" in 1968, spun off MCA Laboratories to develop this revolutionary new system. They purchased a defunct furniture factory and converted it to a full-scale mastering and replication facility which became the largest manufacturer of laser videodiscs in the United States.
The first public demonstration of the "Disco-Vision" hyphen format took place at Universal Studios in Universal City, California, on December 12, 1972, with a seven-minute screening of clips from Universal motion pictures.reminder Philips representatives who attended were impressed. They were developing their own videodisc system while RCA was developing a competing vinyl-based videodisc system, the Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED). Philips entered a merger (of sorts) with MCA in September 1974. Two companies were assigned different tasks; MCA would remain in charge of the videodiscs themselves, and Philips would take charge of the playback systems for said videodiscs. They spent 1976 and 1977 working out various problems through test pressings. In 1977, Pioneer entered into a joint venture called Universal Pioneer to handle the potential industrial applications of Disco-Vision.
In 1978, the year of its official launch, Disco-Vision dropped the hyphen and simply became DiscoVision. Disney, Paramount, and Warner Bros., among other entities, signed distribution deals with MCA DiscoVision.
In May 1980, MCA entered the videocassette business as MCA Videocassette, Inc. to distribute both VHS and Betamax releases. They launched with just over two dozen titles from Universal Studios.
DiscoVision was quickly riddled with problems on many fronts. MCA and Philips scrambled trying to solve them, but this ultimately failed; DiscoVision went bust by the end of 1981. It's considered an Old Shame by MCA and its successors, but a Cult Classic among collectors.
In 1982, MCA decided to take a second stab at the videodisc business and launched a more successful division called MCA Videodisc. This label was used for both LaserVision and CED releases. In 1983, MCA Videodisc and MCA Videocassette merged to become MCA Home Video.
When Universal Studios hit its 75th anniversary in 1990, MCA Home Video started a streak of name changes, beginning with MCA/Universal Home Video, and in 2016 settling on Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Fotomat was a photography pioneer, video rental innovator, and originator of the "manufacture-on-demand" concept.
In mid-1979, Fotomat entered into an agreement with Paramount to rent and sell 43 feature films on videocassette. Among the first offered through Fotomat were Saturday Night Fever, The Godfather, and The Godfather Part II. Fotomat partnered with Chicago-based Bell & Howell Video Systems on a new manufacture-on-demand rental venture, "Fotomat Drive-Thru Movies"; Bell & Howell was the tape duplicator for the entire run of this service. It was initially tested in Los Angeles before spreading nationwide in December 1979. Customers browsed through a small catalog, called a toll-free number to order the movie or movies of their choice, then the video(s) would arrive the next day for pickup at a Fotomat drive-thru kiosk.catalog
In 1980, Fotomat entered into a rental arrangement with Disney for ten feature films and three episodes of Disney's anthology series, kicking off the distribution of Walt Disney Home Video.
Since Fotomat's problems were quickly apparent to Paramount, Paramount started their own distributor instead of continuing with Fotomat. Those problems included tapes getting lost in transit and resold by less innocuous interests, and competition from local video rental stores that offered cheaper prices without the overnight wait. Fotomat ended the rental service in 1982.
Paramount Home Video
Paramount Pictures first attempted to enter the industry in 1976 failure , but their movies remained unavailable on videocassette until they joined forces with Fotomat in 1979. Fotomat offered video rental from a catalog with next-day pickup at Fotomat kiosks.
Recognizing early on that Fotomat's program had problems, Paramount decided to self-release its formerly rental-only titles for consumer purchase. Paramount previewed several dozen titles at the Consumer Electronics Show. They later released their titles on laser videodisc.
In 1982, Paramount Home Video released two titles that changed the home video world forever: the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed" and its follow-up movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The videotapes were priced directly for the consumer at the relatively-affordable prices of $29.95 for the episode and $39.95 for the movie (compared to $79.95 or more for other titles). This move created the home video "sell-through" market, where consumers make a one-time purchase to own a video forever instead of repeatedly paying to rent it. Distributors gained another revenue stream by selling to consumers in addition to rental companies.
In 1999, Paramount Home Video was renamed Paramount Home Entertainment. 2000 saw the former CIC Video, an international joint-venture of Paramount and Universal, become Paramount's international video arm; Universal had just purchased PolyGram Films and their international home video arm, rendering CIC pointless.
RCA/Columbia Pictures, TriStar, and Sony
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video is the former name of a home video division currently known as Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Columbia Pictures had been previously releasing its own films and those of fellow Hollywood studio Warner Bros. on Super 8. In November 1979, they launched Columbia Pictures Home Entertainment with 20 titles on VHS and Betamax and several others on Super 8. This entry into the videocassette market is generally regarded as the beginning of the company. Columbia was also a pioneer in closed captioning for home video on its early releases.
In 1981, Columbia and RCA, the creator of the CED videodisc format, entered into a joint venture as RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, primarily so the CED format would have product to sell (the joint-venture only reached American shores in 1982). In addition to titles from RCA and Columbia, they released works from Columbia's TriStar Pictures and "mini-major" New Line Cinema, as well as a variety of smaller firms.note During the 1980s, RCA/Columbia had a children's subsidiary called Magic Window.note It also had a music subsidiary, MusicVision, which issued titles from RCA Records along with others like Island Records, Motown, and PolyGram Music Video.
Sony Pictures acquired and merged Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures together in 1989, but RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video got into a legal spat with NBC. NBC's parent company, General Electric (GE), had acquired RCA in 1986. In 1990, NBC accused Columbia and Sony of attempting to subvert the joint home video venture by picking up international video rights to Orion Pictures films. Ultimately, GE opted to sell its share of RCA/Columbia (50%) to Sony, ending the litigation.
Sony renamed the company Columbia TriStar Home Video in 1991.New Line Columbia TriStar continued to evolve together, though the divisions still produced and distributed films with those separate names. The overall company eventually took on the Sony name in 2005 as Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video was founded in 1978 under the name WCI Home Video WCI , but soon renamed to its familiar form before the company was a year old. They began as the video-releasing division of Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, dedicated to releasing the Warner Bros. library on videocassette, and they released their first VHS and Betamax tapes in late 1979.
Warner Home Video attracted controversy in 1981 when they became the leading company behind rental-only programs. Starting on October 15, Warner would stop selling tapes to video dealers and instead they only rent them out to dealers in selected markets.note Many video dealers opposed the plan, and the band Queen was also a vocal opponent.Queen Thanks to this opposition, Warner's rental program didn't last more than a year, and the damage had largely been done to rental-only for the foreseeable future. All other rental-only programs (by Disney, MGM/UA, and 20th Century-Fox) were terminated by 1983.
In another controversial move, Warner's early videotape releases were sometimes sped up to fit films on tapes of a certain length. Superman: The Movie is the poster child of this time compression practice (though with all dialogue scenes presented at the correct speed, it was lucky compared to most of the other affected titles). Fortunately, the music was seldom presented at a higher pitch despite the speed-up, making Warner an early innovator in the art of efficient time compression; the same could not be said of its contemporaries.
In addition to Warner Bros. and Warner-Elektra-Atlantic titles, Warner Home Video distributed works from other companies others . They would also release DVDs and Blu-rays for outside companies outside , as well as sister WarnerMedia companies.sisters
In 1997, Warner became the first major studio to release motion pictures on DVD, with an initial batch of 33 titles. Warner Home Video changed its name to Warner Bros. Home Entertainment in 2017.
In 2020, Warner Bros. entered into a physical media joint venture with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, to take effect in 2021.
Walt Disney Home Video
The Walt Disney Company's home video branch has used many names for its company name — incorporated names, trade names and primary label names, plus distributing many other labels it owns (or owned). That history is documented elsewhere. For simplicity, we'll go with the long-runner name Walt Disney Home Video (19802001), which currently trades as Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
As Walt Disney Home Entertainment in 1978, they first released their library into the home market through a distribution agreement with MCA DiscoVision. "DiscoVision" was the name at the time for LaserDisc (LD). The deal included live-action Disney movies and animated episodes of Walt Disney Presents. The agreement expired in December 1981, but Disney's films and programs were later released on the revamped version of LD by Pioneer Entertainment and Philips.
In March 1980, Disney formed its own home video arm. Walt Disney Home Video began with thirteen titles on VHS and Betamax, a mix of live action productions and Walt Disney Presents episodes.the 13 These releases were licensed to Fotomat for rental, with a four-city test (in Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco) before a nationwide expansion by the end of the year. During 1981-1984, Disney expanded its reach by having video stores sign up to be "authorized rental dealers".
In 1981, Dumbo became the first Disney Animated Canon movie to hit home video, followed shortly after by Alice in Wonderland and the anthology movies The Three Caballeros, Fun and Fancy Free, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The Disney management at the time were initially reluctant to release the rest of the Canon anywhere but in theaters out of concern that they would lose their value if they were to be released on tape. They marked the Canon's 15 most lucrative movies the 15 off-limits from home video by compiling them into a list of "Untouchables". However, this was during the Dork Age of the studio when the Disney brand was associated with children's fluff and attempts to create Darker and Edgier fare failed miserably at the box office, so the idea of unleashing the Untouchables on home video eventually caught on.
The idea for Walt Disney Classics, the video line for the Disney Animated Canon, was adopted by Michael Eisner after its originator (then-studio head Ron Miller) was ousted in a boardroom takeover. The first Classics title was Robin Hood in 1984, followed by Pinocchio in 1985. As a compromise to the more conservative members of the board, both titles were priced for rental; one could technically buy the tapes, but they were priced at the very steep $79.95. For comparison, a low-end VCR was about $200, and the LaserDisc versions of those titles were $34.95.
In August 1985, Bill Mechanic moved to Disney Home Video. He was the former head of Paramount Home Video, and the move reunited him with his former Paramount bosses, Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. While he was with Paramount, Mechanic had given birth to the "sell-through" market with affordable pricing. Sensing an opportunity for Disney, Mechanic lowered the price for Pinocchio to $29.95, eventually breaking sales records in the video market, and Disney subsequently debuted new releases in the collection in a similar price range. Other video distributors embraced sell-through for children's and family titles. Mechanic also created the so-called "The Disney Vault," making most Disney Classics only available for a limited time before going "back into the vault". Disney's Robin Hood was the first Classics title reissued on home video in 1991, followed by Pinocchio in 1993.note
For the first few years of the Walt Disney Classics collection, Disney traditionally re-released an "Untouchable" in theaters, then shortly afterwards "opened the vault" to make it available to own on home video. Brand-new entries to the Disney Animated Canon didn't come to home video at first in hopes that their theatrical re-releases would still make money. However, after 1989's The Little Mermaid became Disney's biggest success in years, it was released to home video only six months after its theatrical premiere. Canon entries following The Little Mermaid had progressively shorter gaps between their theatrical premieres and their first home video release dates.
Disney previously vowed that their crown jewels (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia) would never be released on video, but they relented with Fantasia in 1991, followed by Snow White in 1994 as the first in the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection line. Some time after this, the term "Untouchable" was apparently abandoned at Disney.note With VHS sales eating up revenue from theatrical reissues, Disney eventually only did the latter on special occasions.
Towards the end of 1997, Disney began releasing their live action movies on DVD. Within the next couple of years, the studio kicked off their efforts to make the Disney Animated Canon available on the format, beginning with Pinocchio. In lieu of the Untouchables, Disney compiled the 14 movies that sold the most videotapes into a collection of films that each remained available for only a limited time before going into moratorium for many years.the 14 Disney initially referred to these films as the "Platinum" collection, but proceeded to change the name whenever the DAC's oldest entry, Snow White, entered a new media format. Other movies only disappeared from stores if the studio decided to re-release them with more bonus features. The films usually undergo a remaster of varying quality prior to the latest re-release.
An early supporter of the Blu-ray format, Disney officially started releasing new films on these discs in 2006. In 2008, Disney began releasing their traditionally-animated movies on Blu-ray, starting with Sleeping Beauty.
Also in 2006, Disney began venturing into non-physical releases. They became the first studio to make their movies available to purchase and download through Apple's iTunes, which at the time was run by Pixar CEO and Disney shareholder Steve Jobs. In 2014, Disney launched a website and mobile app especially for downloading and streaming their movies called Disney Movies Anywhere, which launched the same day that the Canon's highest-grossing movie, Frozen, hit digital platforms.
In 2017, Disney began releasing their library on 4K UltraHD Blu-ray and Digital formats, and the renamed Movies Anywhere started offering other studios' works in addition to Disney's. The following year, Wreck-It Ralph became the Animated Canon's first UltraHD title (as a tie-in with Ralph Breaks the Internet), and The Lion King (1994) their first traditionally-animated UHD release.
Meanwhile, Disney VHS tapes (particularly the animated ones) have become collectibles and part of a niche market. They ceased LaserDisc releases in 1999, and VHS in 2006.
Disney owns and distributes home videos for ABC Signature (since 2007), Lucasfilm (since 2014), Marvel Studios (since 2012), and The Muppets Studio (since 2004). After Disney's buyout of 21st Century Fox in 2019, they began distributing former 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures titles as 20th Century Studios Home Entertainment.
If you haven't been keeping track, that means Disney owns what was once Magnetic Video, the one that started it all.
Other home video distributors
Independent home video distributors
FHE, IVE, and Artisan EntertainmentThe company that began as Family Home Entertainment (FHE) was one of the most important independent distributors of the 1980s and 1990s home video scene.
Family Home Entertainment was founded in 1981 by adult filmmaker (seriously) Noel Christopher Bloom Sr., a year after his adult film company entered the home video market as Caballero Control Corporation. FHE's initial lineup note was introduced at that summer's Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. Most of the initial offerings were licensed from ZIV International, which would later be absorbed by Lorimar-Telepictures. From there, FHE had nowhere to go but up, acquiring such lucrative properties as Care Bears, G.I. Joe, Inspector Gadget, Strawberry Shortcake, The Transformers, and several others from Filmation. On some tapes, various Looney Tunes shorts were included as padding if the content fell short of an hour.
Not wanting to restrict his mainstream programming to children's entertainment, Bloom entered into a joint venture with Scott Mansfield to form Monterey Home Video. In 1983, FHE started a third mainstream division, U.S.A. Home Video, with three releases: Fiona, a biography of adult star Fiona Richmond; Ms. 45, Abel Ferrara's second feature-length film; and Thin Thighs in Thirty Days, an exercise video. U.S.A. Home Video expanded vigorously the next year by acquiring films from ITC Entertainment, Viacom, Alan Landsburg Productions, Lorimar, and Tomorrow Entertainment, among others. Its biggest hits were Supergirl and Nineteen Eighty Four, the former a theatrical flop which ended up doing better business on home video, and the latter a faithful adaptation of George Orwell's dystopian novel which happened to be filmed in the exact timeframe in which the story takes place.
In 1986, IVE was nearing bankruptcy when Carolco Pictures bought a majority stake in IVE, a deal that was finalized in 1987. Carolco brought in former RCA executive Jose Menendez to help stem IVE's massive losses. Bloom did not get along with Menendez and soon left to start another video firm. IVE quickly began making money again, and expanded into distribution of video titles for pay-TV.
In 1988, IVE and FHE were part of a merger with Lieberman Enterprises, a wholesale distribution firm based in Minneapolis that handled videos, records, and computer software. This resulted in another renaming to LIVE Entertainment. They also established more sub-labels, including Carolco Home Video and the budget label Avid Home Entertainment (which distributed cheaper EP/SLP versions of tapes from LIVE and the other labels).
On a darker note, Jose Menendez and his wife were murdered in 1989 by their own sons, Lyle and Erik, in one of America's most infamous criminal cases.
The next few years were rough as the company struggled with a large debt load, a revolving door of executives, and buying all sorts of stuff, including the remains of rival Vestron Video and several regional record and video store chains. By 1994, the company began to sell or spin-off its unprofitable parts (including the retail operations and Lieberman assets). The changing video market led LIVE to invest in film production. They also nearly merged with old partner Carolco Pictures, itself nearly at death's door due to several box-office flops— but fortunately for LIVE, this plan was averted and they escaped Carolco's fate. They continued to distribute Carolco titles on video after striking a deal with the owner of Carolco's remnants, the French firm StudioCanal.
Bain Capital took the company private in 1997 and it was renamed again to Artisan Entertainment. By 2000, they were distributing the Republic Pictures back catalog (under license from Paramount), Hallmark Hall of Fame and other Hallmark Entertainment titles, and Discovery Channel Video. They'd had a major theatrical success with the Found Footage horror film The Blair Witch Project. They also struck a deal with Marvel Comics to develop films based on their characters, although this deal ultimately bore little fruit.
After a string of flops, Artisan was put up for sale in 2003 and various consortiums began to bid, among them the aforementioned Marvel Comics (which had the backing of Miramax Films, somewhat ironically). Ultimately, Canadian film house Lions' Gate Films (now known as Lionsgate) won and merged with Artisan in 2004. Since then, Lionsgate has become a major Hollywood player— but it hasn't forgotten about the Artisan side of things. Lionsgate tapped the Artisan library for their Roku channel (Vidmark) and the Vestron Video Collector's Series on Blu-ray.
Media Home EntertainmentMedia Home Entertainment, Inc. was one of the earliest independent home video distributors. It was founded by Charles Band, his colleague Irwin Yablans, and a few others in 1978. Band himself would leave the company in 1980 to establish his own home video label, Wizard Video. Until 1981, Media Home Entertainment was styled as "MEDA", named after Charles Band's wife, Meda.
As a leader in the new home video boom of the early 1980s, Media Home Entertainment became known for distributing several B-movies, including Halloween (1978) (and other John Carpenter films), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and Night of the Living Dead (1968). In an agreement with New Line Cinema, they distributed the original VHS releases of the first five A Nightmare on Elm Street films in the U.S. and Canada. They also signed deals with The Cannon Group and Troma.
In 1984, Media Home Entertainment was purchased by Gerald Ronson and his company, the British property developer Heron International. Media Home Entertainment was organized into a newly formed division, Heron Communications, Inc. After the acquisition, Media Home Entertainment had six sublabels:
- Hi-Tops Video (childrens' videos, including handling the first VHS releases of the majority of the Peanuts specials and of Pee-wee's Playhouse, along with Babar, Barbie, Inhumanoids, Lady Lovely Locks, and Madeline)
- Fox Hills Video (special interest videos)
- The Nostalgia Merchant (releases of very rare old films, including several made by RKO Pictures)
- Cinematheque Collection (foreign language films)
- Condor Video (Spanish language dubs of films)
- Music Media (music videos)
The good times didn't last as long. In the early 1990s, Media Home Entertainment began folding its operations after Gerald Ronson was convicted of securities fraud. By 1994, Media Home Entertainment fully ceased to exist. Many of its last releases were co-distributed by 20th Century Fox (through the FoxVideo and CBS/Fox Video labels) or by Video Treasures. The rights to the majority of the Media Home Entertainment library were later held by Anchor Bay Entertainment (successor to Video Treasures, and owned by the Starz premium cable network). A few years later, Lionsgate bought Starz, including the Anchor Bay Entertainment and Media Home Entertainment libraries.
Vestron VideoFrom humble beginnings, Vestron Video became one of the biggest independent home video companies on the planet. Vestron was founded in 1981 by former HBO executive Austin Owen Furst Jr.,fun fact who was hired to dismantle the assets of Time-Life's film division. With public appetite for home video increasing, Vestron struck deals with a number of independent producers and minor film companies to distribute their works on video. Thanks to their origins as a semi-spinoff of HBO/Time-Life, they released some HBO specials on home media. By 1985, Vestron debuted on the stock market, with an IPO worth $440 million; the company was making $350 million in sales a year, with an expansive international operation (present in over 30 countries), rivaling only Warner Bros. in size. They offered specialty titles including National Geographic wildlife specials and the PBS science series Nova.
Vestron Video had a few sublabels, including: Children's Video Library (which handled family/children's titles), Lightning Video (which handled extreme B and made-for-TV movies), and Wonderlust Video (which handled adult titles).
However, the home video boom that fueled the company's meteoric rise also proved to be their undoing. Soon, many of the companies they had deals with started their own video companies or went to bigger labels; producers also began increasing prices. Vestron shifted gears into movie production to try and keep their video products going. Their B-movies Dirty Dancing wound up a massive hit at the box office, to the surprise of many. But Vestron found themselves essentially backed into a corner content-wise; much of their in-house productions were B-movies, and the viewers were looking for more than just cheap horror or comedy films. All of this combined into an untenable financial situation. The company's financing fell through and forced Vestron to file for bankruptcy in 1991.
Shortly thereafter, the company was acquired by rival LIVE Entertainment and was folded into said company the following year. Some of Vestron's international branches split off and became separate firms; the UK division became known as First Independent under the ownership of HTV (the ITV company serving Wales and the West of England), but eventually was sold to the UK arm of Columbia Tristar Home Video.
Lionsgate eventually got their hands on the LIVE/Vestron assets in the mid-2000s. In 2016, began offering the Vestron Video Collector's Series on DVD and Blu-ray, a lineup composed of horror tiles from Vestron's heyday and other B-movies owned by Lionsgate, beginning with Chopping Mall. Lionsgate has offered Vestron content through their Vidmark service on Roku.
Wizard VideoWizard Video was started by Charles Band in 1980 after leaving Media Home Entertainment. He took one of his own blue movies, Auditions, with him when he left. Auditions became the second tape his new company offered, after a French drama called Don Juan (or, If Don Juan Were a Woman), which was released under the name Ms. Don Juan. By 1982, they had started two subsidiaries, Cult Video and Force Video.
Wizard Video's first blockbuster home video release was in 1982, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which made them an independent sensation in the realm of home video. In late 1982, Wizard released three films in the book box packaging style that Warner Home Video and MGM/UA Home Video had earlier popularized, and they also briefly dabbled in 3D. Wizard Video released a 3D Willie Nelson concert film (in 2D) called Willie Nelson's 4th of July Picnic, which was pulled after a complaint was filed by the rights-holders in 1983; an Australian avant-garde surfing film called Crystal Voyager (featuring a climactic voyage through the eye of the wave set to the music of Pink Floyd); Pink Flamingos, the biggest gross-out of its time; a Brucesploitation film; and a few Video Nasties.
The second phase of Wizard Video began in 1984 with four films released in the now-infamous big box style that contemporaries USA Home Video and Magnum Entertainment, among other companies, used at the time. Later that year, they released a Video Nasty by the name of S.S. Experiment, which turned out to not be as "nasty" as it seemed (to the point where the UK unbanned it nearly two decades later, with the BBFC admitting to having overreacted to the content). The company turned out some more exploitation and action titles in 1985 and 1986, and released their first direct-to-video film, Breeders. Around the Halloween season, they released two films that would've been rated X in theaters for their gory horror content: the DTV film Dreamaniac, about a succubus who crashes a metalhead's party and kills the guests one by one, and the 1970s slasher film The Headless Eyes, about a burglar who loses an eye to one of his victims and starts stealing eyes from women in a killing spree that baffles the police. The two films were promoted in an ad that invites the viewer to take the absolutely-not-for-the-squeamish Total Terror Test. Wizard's last releases in the classic era were DTV films.
Later, Wizard Video was relaunched three times: once in 1998 (which went nowhere), once in 2005 (as a label for Full Moon's catalog releases), and again in 2014 (as Wizard Studios). In 2013, Band attempted to cash in on the popularity of the classic era by re-releasing several mid-'80s Wizard and Force titles with variations on the original packaging.
Non-USA home video distributors
Anime Limited, also known as All the Anime, is a UK anime distributor established in 2012. They have sub-licensed from several companies, including Aniplex USA, Funimation, and Viz Media. They are known for their collector's and ultimate editions of many of their releases.
They've partnered with American recording studio NYAV Post to dub some of their licensed titles that weren't previously dubbed elsewhere, such as 009 Re:Cyborg, Mai Mai Miracle and Psychic School Wars.
In 2017, their licensed shows began airing in late-night on Viceland UK.
Cineplex Odeon VideoCineplex Odeon Video was the home video division of Canadian theatre chain Cineplex Odeon Corporation and one of the major video distributors in Canada.
Cineplex Odeon's video division began operations in the early 1980's as Pan-Canadian Video Presentations, changing to the familiar name in 1986. They continued well into the late 1990's until Alliance Atlantis purchased the assets of Cineplex Odeon's film distribution unit along with its home video division.
Modern TimesModern Times was formerly a major entertainment company, founded in 1996 by Kostas Giannikos as a comic book company. In 2000, they expanded into VHS tapes and DVDs under the brand name "Nextworks S.A.", and later audiotapes, books, and CDs, The company closed in late 2011 when Kostas Giannikos was arrested for financial crimes that involved Modern Times; he was convicted in 2018.
MVM Entertainment, a British anime distributor, is the UK licensee for select titles from AnimEigo, Central Park Media, Geneon USA, GONZO, Media Blasters, NIS America, Nozomi Entertainment, Sentai Filmworks, Urban Vision and Viz Media. They have distributed som Funimation titles depending on license status. MVM also releases one British animated series, Aaagh! It's the Mr. Hell Show!, as well as Asian cinema and live action horror films from both Asia and the English-speaking world.
Roadshow Home Video
Roadshow Home Video is the former name of Roadshow Entertainment, an Australian home video company which is a subsidiary of Village Roadshow Corporation. Based in New South Wales, they launched in 1982 and became the largest independent home video releasing company in Australasia. Their first offerings were a blend of 20 Australian and international titles, including homegrown science fiction action film Mad Max, X-rated Insatiable, graphically scary horror film Phantasm (aka The Never Dead), driving film King Of The Mountain, and the king of Body Horror and asploding heads itself, Scanners. They released titles from Roadshow and sister studio Greater Union, along with Carolco Pictures, Orion Pictures, and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, among others. It was formerly the Australian distributor of titles from Walt Disney Home Video.
Crisis struck in the mid-'80s when the Australian Classification Board (ACB) decided to implement the method used by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to deal with Video Nasties— the ACB started requiring home video releases to be certified separately from cinematic releases. As this was a lot of work to implement, even higher-profile independents like Roadshow were severely affected, and numerous titles like The Never Dead went out of print overnight. It's no coincidence that Roadshow released fewer titles at a time afterwards.
Towards the end of 1985, Village Roadshow adopted a new visual identity in the form of several letter V's stacked together. This carried over to their cinematic distribution and home video units, as well as its new television (Roadshow Television) and film production (Village Roadshow Pictures) units. In 1988, Roadshow celebrated Australia's bicentennial by releasing the Aussie Six-Pack, a commemorative re-release of six classic Australian movies (Mad Max, Gallipoli, Far East, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Rebel, and Stone).
Thorn EMI Video
Thorn EMI Video, owned by the music/electronics conglomerate EMI, was a British-based home video company that also released its product in North America and Australia. It started life in 1979 as EMI Videogram before taking on its more well-known name in 1981, the same year it expanded to the United States with 14 titles that included one of two licensed videos of the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.note Thorn EMI Video later evolved into a mini-major in the North American video business, with such titles as The Burning, The Bushido Blade, and First Blood. They distributed early New Line Cinema titles and product from Thames Television and Universal Pictures.
In November 1984, Thorn EMI Video entered into a joint venture with HBO to distribute independent films and HBO productions, giving their North American arm the name Thorn EMI/HBO Video. They became the exclusive distributor for many unreleased Orion Pictures films prior to Orion creating their own video division note .
Following The Cannon Group's purchase of the Thorn EMI library in 1986, the company became Cannon Video in the UK and HBO/Cannon Video in North America. However, Cannon was soon forced to sell Thorn EMI's library to producer Jerry Weintraub thanks to financial issues, and the company became simply HBO Video in 1987. Orion dropped out soon after that to set up their own video label. HBO Video distributed Weintraub's Thorn EMI product in North America for the time he owned it, while Warner Home Video distributed it in the UK. HBO Video continued releasing product from a variety of firms note through the late 80s and into the 90s, but gradually began concentrating on HBO-produced material as these companies shut down or found other distributors. It was renamed as HBO Home Video in 1993, and HBO Home Entertainment in 2009 when its operations were streamlined with sister firm Warner Home Entertainment.
Miscellaneous home video companies
Allied Artists VideoOne of the most short-lived early home video companies, Allied Artists Video was set up in 1978 as a joint venture between ailing Hollywood veteran Allied Artists and Bell & Howell Video Systems. The company had some successes from its launch in October, including Papillon, The Man Who Would Be King, The Betsy, The Story of O, and The Wild Geese, but its parent company's financial troubles would soon catch up to them, eventually resulting in its 1979 bankruptcy and purchase by Lorimar. Lorimar shut down the company the next year, knocking the entire library out of print overnight. Some titles that had been released on video by Allied Artists are still hard to find decades later. The last videocassette release by Allied Artists Video was the complete Rathbone-Bruce series of Sherlock Holmes films.
Kino Lorber Studio ClassicsKino Lorber Studio Classics is a home video company that specializes in reissuing classic films on DVD and Blu-ray from the catalogs of major studios, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Disney, Universal and Studio Canal.
Lyrick StudiosLyrick Studios was a production and distribution company that oversaw the release of children's TV shows, home videos, audio albums, books, games and toys based on various franchises, most famously Barney & Friends and Wishbone. The company was created in 1994 as an umbrella for their two main production companies: The Lyons Group (Barney) and Big Feats Entertainment (Wishbone). Lyrick was acquired by HIT Entertainment in 2001 and was folded into the company later that year.note
Mill Creek EntertainmentMill Creek Entertainment is a low-budget independent home video company that specializes in reissuing films and TV series from major studios' catalogs, mostly Disney and Sony. They have also released some original content.
PBS Home VideoAfter years of selling cassettes to the educational market, PBS decided it needed to break into the realm of commercial home video. They joined forces with Michael Nesmith's Pacific Arts in 1990 to form PBS Home Video. Their first releases that fall included The Frugal Gourmet, Nature, This Old House, Wall Street Week, and American Playhouse. Over the next few years, PBS Home Video became an emerging independent and released programs such as Reading Rainbow, Frontline, Nova, The Dinosaurs, The Civil War, The Astronomers, and Masterpiece Theater, as well as a few pledge drive specials. However, tensions grew between PBS and Pacific Arts, culminating in an acrimonious split and a lawsuit that lasted several years. In the meantime, PBS moved to Turner Home Entertainment for distribution. After Turner was acquired by Warner Home Video, PBS distributed some tapes independently before joining up with Warner once more for a few years. Later, they went independent again for a time before joining up with Paramount Home Video, with whom they'd stay for several years, until they merged with WGBH's own home video unit to form PBS Distribution.
Random House Home VideoRandom House Home Video was, well, the home video division of Random House, an American book publisher. They focused on children's programs, specifically those based off of popular book series. They also released Sesame Street Direct-to-Video titles, and were the first company to bring that series to home video. In 1995, Sony Wonder entered a partnership with Random House to take over distribution of their videos. Consequently, Sesame Workshop signed an exclusive deal with Sony Wonder for future Sesame Street releases to make matters less complicated. Random House Home Video went dormant around 2001, though Sony Wonder still used their logos on releases as late as 2006.
Twilight TimeTwilight Time is a home video company that specializes in releasing limited edition classic films on DVD and Blu-ray from major studios' catalogs, mostly from Sony (including Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures), 20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including United Artists, Orion Pictures and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment) and Universal.