Twenty years ago, DVD thrashed VHS in sales. The change from tape to DVD was so quick that the DVD player became the fastest adopted consumer electronic device ever in 2002. But, what was it about DVD(Digital Versatile Disc) that made it more popular than VHS (Video Home System)?

Now that streaming services rule the world, I find it baffling how quickly consumers changed from plastic tapes to plastic discs. Particularly because I remember how time-consuming it was to insert a disc or tape into a player and wait for the video to play.

But DVD was remarkably better than VHS. The disc had a larger memory space, was smaller and lighter in size and was multifunctional. Comparably, DVD had a much better standard of definition than VHS. And you forget the major design flaw with VHS tapes. Every time you played a video, you risked losing quality due to the tape warping and the magnetism deteriorating.

Yet, it wasn't the appearance of DVD that killed VHS. The downfall of VHS was that it was analogue; and, as we entered the twenty-first century, everyone wanted digital.


Blame the nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine channels


The battle between VHS and DVD really began when television changed from analogue to digital. Sky introduced digital television to the UK in 1998 with Freeview quick to follow. Hundreds more channels became available for consumers to watch rather than the classic BBC, ITV, and Channel 4.

The multitude of programmes and re-runs available to watch at any time felt like a threat to major Hollywood studios. Not that it felt like it at the time for us television lovers. How many times did we mutter “nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine programmes and still nothing to watch”?

But, for the screen industries like Warner Bros and MGM, the amplitude of television channels was a threat. And unfortunately for VHS, film rental companies were in the firing line.


No More Be Kind, Rewind.


By the mid-1990s, Blockbuster’s video rental service earnt forty per cent of the film market share. However, studios were losing two-thirds of every dollar due to Blockbuster renting the same films repeatedly, and they were not happy. The big Hollywood studios saw DVD as a new opportunity to take back control of profits.


Example of Sky's recorded programme planner.
Blast from the past, Sky+'s planner for recorded programmes

The idea was to market DVDs as a commodity to buy rather than rent. Since the disc had a much larger memory space than VHS, studios could include additional special footage not seen when played in the cinema. DVDs would be marketed with behind-the-camera footage, bloopers, deleted scenes and director’s cuts. A never-seen-before idea in film marketing that gave fans the power to divulge into their favourite films more than they ever had before.


Digital Recording Revolution


The last nail in the coffin for VHS belonged to the beloved Sky box and other digital video recorders. By the beginning of the Millennium, consumers could buy digital recording boxes that offered the chance to record two programmes simultaneously. Households could collect a bank of recorded television programmes to watch at the click of a few buttons.

The choice of recording two programmes seems laughable now households can stream anything at any time. But, back in 2001, setting up a programme to record at any moment and scheduling a whole series to record in one go was a luxury. Suddenly, the laborious troubles of setting up a VHS to tape a programme came to light. Families could avoid precious memories being recorded over by Midsummer Murders and arguments about what show to watch ceased. Just come back in an hour after your sister has watched her show, and you can watch the recording of yours.

By 2002, households had no need to buy blank VHS tapes, and DVDs had penetrated the market as the best option to watch and consume films. Within the next six years, VHS tapes stopped being produced, Blockbuster went out of business, and the beginning of Netflix and streaming services began.