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  • Chris McHugh

What Happened to Betamax?

Updated: May 1

Sony’s Betamax format came out in 1975. Sony gave the format its name because beta is the Japanese word that indicates the way in which signals are recorded on the tape and the shape of the lowercase Greek letter beta. Also, the beta symbol kind of looked like the way the tape moved around the two reels and the tape head that played the tape. Max was added to the end because maximus means great.

Sony called Betamax “the ultimate conquest of time.” This ushered in a new catch phrase, timeshift. The ability to actually watch what you want when you want after it airs.


This timeshift issue was never truly accounted for in TV ratings for more than three decades until Neilsen started tracking DVR usage in 2007.


For people like me that worked in TV news and other areas of video production a spinoff of the Betamax format was the workhorse of the industry, called Betacam. And a lot of those professional tapes, video tape recorders and players are still around. And there’s a ton of programs still sitting in archives, sitting on shelves in the Betacam format.


But as we know all good things must come to an end. In 1996, Mission Impossible became the last movie to be released in the Betamax format.


And two decades later, Sony finally stopped making blank Betamax tapes.


But don’t be sad, Pookie. I’ve got something to cheer you up. No matter what time of year it is, you can always visit the website BetamaXmas.com. The website looks like a basement from the late 70s/early 80s, complete with a remote that you can flip through the channels. Just like you had to back in the day.

 

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