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Reviewed by:
  • Video and DVD Industries
  • Paul J. Torre (bio)
Video and DVD Industries by Paul McDonald. British Film Institute 2008. $84.95 hardcover; $26.95 paper. 224 pages

One of the challenges facing those researching and teaching in the media industries area is how to track and synthesize historical and ongoing developments. We start with what has happened in the past, move on to what is happening in the present, and then face the daunting task of predicting what will happen in the future. In the last few years especially, the media industries have experienced developments in technologies and economies of production, and audiences have flocked in pursuit of emerging media content and devices. The video and DVD industries, from their origins to their current delivery systems, present us with a complex case study in which media sectors converge, collide, and constantly evolve in their production, distribution, and consumer take-up.

Paul McDonald's Video and DVD Industries is part of the International Screen Industries series edited by McDonald and Michael Curtin. Most volumes in the series cover either the film or television industries, devoting their analytic attention to production and distribution in specific geographic regions. In Video and DVD Industries the project is global in scope, but narrower in focus. Though other books occasionally discuss video, this is a welcome new book-length treatment of commercial home video.1 In the last few years, defining what is and what isn't a part of the video and DVD industries has become complicated by the widespread adoption of electronic delivery of video content across platforms, and yet this book retains, for the most part, separate and distinct categories that are becoming limited in their usefulness.

In his introduction, McDonald demarcates his area of study as including the commercial business of producing and distributing video and DVD hardware and software to consumers. In addition, [End Page 176] McDonald points to key tensions that have challenged the industry historically, including battles over competing formats and control over proprietary technologies and intellectual property. These industrial struggles play across a transnational and global stage, with the Hollywood studios and Japanese electronics companies as major players, yet with a plethora of commercial piracy operations representing "the revenge of capitalism on capitalism."2

The first two chapters examine the history of technological developments in consumer electronics, leading to the first major format war between Sony's Betamax and VHS from JVC and Matsushita. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, one deciding factor in the eventual success of VHS over Beta was the alliance and coordination of hardware manufacturers, such as Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Sharp, who joined with Matsushita and JVC to produce machines for the VHS format, McDonald explains. He then moves methodically through disc-based formats, with sections on various iterations of mechanical and optical discs, and with a cursory look at the LaserDisc format, which maintained a slight 2 percent market share in the United States (while persisting for a decade), but reached 10 percent penetration in Japan, buoyed by the added content of director's commentaries and other features. The prevalence of the Compact Disc (CD) audio format led to video discs of the same size. The relatively smooth path to the Digital Video Disc (DVD) can be attributed to competitors' agreeing to resolve differences sooner in the research and development process, to the format's higher-quality sound and video, and to DVD's range of extras offered alongside original content. McDonald argues that this presentation of higher technical quality and the inclusion of extras allowed the DVD to be marketed as a commodity—as in the case of the Criterion Collection.

In Chapters 3 and 4, McDonald describes the global market for video hardware and software, and Hollywood's initial hesitance and eventual embrace of the DVD platform. The author describes in detail the diffusion of video innovations, with "porous media" crossing borders into Ethiopia, Israel, the Soviet Union, and the Arab world, and facing a variety of cultural and regulatory hurdles in the spread from the industrialized world to developing nations. In the United States, as VHS and then DVD distribution grew into a significant revenue stream, the...


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