On Demand Video Before the Internet

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In this day and age, you can almost get any form of entertainment right at your fingertips. It’s never been so easy to watch movies or T.V. shows. Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, etc. have revolutionized how people watch shows and movies. It’s not only for American entertainment; entertainment from all over the world is available for anybody to watch. These are all very recent changes, though, and all thanks to the internet. Without the internet, streaming would be impossible. So how did people back then, before the internet, watch whatever movies or shows they wanted outside the television and movie theater. I don’t think people were at the mercy of their program broadcaster or movie theater to watch their entertainment. I’m pretty sure there were various ways for people to watch their programming at their behest.

Image taken from Amazon: Lot of 3 Blank Recordable T-120 VHS Tapes Sony and Fuji EP Mode

In a world before the internet, media has to be stored in physical devices rather than in a cloud. There are VHS and DVDs that people would use to store their media in. VHS players and DVD players existed to play this media on the T.V. Some T.V.s probably also came with a VHS or DVD player built-in, no doubt for a costly price though. To get VHS tapes and DVDs, people would have to go to stores to buy them. A person would be able to get them anywhere, from the grocery store to the electronics store. A person doesn’t have to go to a store to get their media also. People could also order a DVD or VHS tape of their favorite show or movie by ordering it by phone by looking at ads in newspapers and magazines. Not everybody would have to buy their media; some might feel that it would be wasteful to purchase a movie that they would only watch once or twice before forgetting about it. There are video rental places that let people rent movies and T.V. shows for a fraction of the cost to buy them to serve those people. There would be community bazaars like swap meets where people can sell the movies and shows that they are tired of, also for a fraction of the price. People could even bypass paying at all by going to the library and rent their programming there for free. Library membership is very high in the world before the internet. The library is not the only place to get free programming though a person can get free programming through a friend or relative, or straight from the person’s T.V. itself. There could be a system set up by the neighborhood where participating families can have their movies and shows be available to be borrowed by other families in the neighborhood by asking on the phone. There can even be a homemade catalog spread throughout the neighborhood, showing what movies and shows are available to borrow. A person could also get free programming by recording whatever is showing up on the T.V. to a blank VHS tape or DVD. A special tape or DVD for recording what appears on the T.V. screen can be put in the correct media player hooked up to the T.V. with recording features. The VHS or DVD can record anything, show, or movie, but the legality of such a process may be murky. There can also be third party sellers selling bootleg recordings of various shows and movies for a very cheap price. These are all fine and dandy ways for people back then to watch their shows and movies whenever they wanted. Still, at the places I provided above, except for the neighborhood borrow system, only the new and popular shows and movies would be available. Where would a person who wanted to consume foreign or obscure media go to get what they want?

Brick and mortar stores would not carry foreign or less mainstream media for various regions, and people who wanted such would have to go elsewhere to get what they want. A person who wants less mainstream media, for example, would go to specialty hobby shops like comic book stores and antique stores.  For foreign media, a person would go to ethnic grocery stores or even go to a foreign country to obtain it if they are such a fanatic. A person can also try their luck by going to thrift stores or swap meets, but success would be low. It’ll be much more difficult, but not impossible for people to get exactly what they want if it’s not super mainstream. If people know what they want to watch, they’ll have many ways to get it, but how do people discover new stuff to watch? There’s no algorithm yet to show people recommendations on what to watch next based on their tastes; people had to find that out by themselves or through people they can trust.

In a world without the internet, word of mouth is king. The best way for a person in that time to discover new shows and movies is to simply talk to other people, whether in school, the office, or even the line at a grocery store. People would ask around looking for a recommendation on what to watch, most likely by friends. The next best way people discovered new stuff to watch is by looking at ads on the screen or paper. Perhaps there were magazines specifically made to help who wanted to find new stuff to watch, including reviews by professional critics, but that would only work for the cinephile and not really for the average person. The average person would primarily depend on friends and relatives for recommendations. A person may like what they are recommended, and sometimes they may not. People will make sure to only listen to the people who are known to give out good recommendations. There can be a community head, a chief for movie and show recommendations that everybody in the community can depend on to give any person the right recommendations based on their tastes. Communities will be much more tight-knit and friendly. The existence of ways to watch shows and movies without relying on the channel or movie theater gave ordinary people a specific power.

I don’t want to be too overly romantic with my words, but the VHS and DVD gave people independence, and when people had a taste of freedom, they will want more. I’m sure there would be people who would like there to be much more easier and streamlined ways to watch whatever show or movie they want, whenever they want. People would want to get past the middlemen that were the numerous T.V. channels and movie theaters that would get in the way of that. It all became possible when the internet came into existence. The internet brought services like Netflix and Hulu into the world, allowing people to bypass theaters and cable T.V. in its entirety. It is becoming increasingly popular not to have a cable T.V. subscription at all, and recently due to this pandemic, it is showing that the existence of theaters offering the hottest new movies might be a thing of the past as well. And this all started because people grew a desire to watch all their favorite shows and movies by their rules, which all started from people owning or renting the media they could watch whenever they wanted.

Cover Image taken from Pexels Free Photos

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