Coming soon to own on videocassette

I don’t use my VCR much; I bought my last prerecorded VHS movie circa 1999, and have hardly touched a blank tape since getting TiVo nearly two years ago. Recently I popped in a few movies from the late ’90s, and discovered how much of a different experience watching a VHS tape is versus a DVD. The main difference, interestingly, was not the lack of menus or random access, but the ten minutes of coming attractions I had to sit through (or fast-foward) prior to watching the movie.

It’s not so much that the previews were there—plenty of DVDs want you to watch previews before the movie starts, although not many—but that they were mostly bad. Previews on DVDs, I suppose since they’re so easy to skip, are usually well-produced and for movies that the producers of the disc think you might actually want to see. The movies, TV movies, TV shows and docu-dramas previewed on my VHS tapes seem to be there mainly because they know they have a captive audience, so they may as well try and hype everything they’re trying to sell that month.

Maybe that’s the main difference between these VHS tapes and the DVDs I’m now used to: selling DVDs to own is a big business, and anything that gets put on the disc still needs to be somewhat appealing in two or three years. In the late ’90s, almost all VHS tapes of new movies were going into the rental market, so the features on the movie needed only to be topical. I also have some VHS tapes of older movies, ones that had been around for a while at the time the tapes were produced and were probably intended to be sold rather than rented. I wonder if they have less jarring previews (or less of them generally).