In a recent post, we talked about measuring the net impact of technological changes. One of the challenges here is that the uses of technologies may change over time and be quite unexpected.
A classic example of this is the Sony Betamax, one of the first VCRs. In 1976, certain copyright holders sued Sony out of fear that the VCR would undermine existing revenue streams, but ultimately they lost the court case and the device grew the economic pie for everyone. It created new markets for movie rentals and sales, which now represent the majority of Hollywood’s revenues.
Sony’s technology also drove creativity in more subtle, but equally important, ways. The Betamax built on an existing copying technology that came out in 1967, called the Sony Video Rover. The Rover was a camera kit, and while it was advertised as a way to record family events, people quickly started putting it to other, unexpected, uses.
One of those uses led to the television show “Saturday Night Live.” As Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad write in Saturday Night, their early history of the show, "The technology spawned a movement known as guerrilla television, which was populated by hundreds of long-hairs carrying [recorder] units, nascent auteurs who'd previously had no access to the mechanisms of television production and who set out to invent their own kind of programs” (Google eBook). Bill Murray, Jon Belushi and other comedy legends were among those “auteurs.” At that time, NBC ran Johnny Carson reruns at 11:30 PM every Saturday because they couldn’t sell advertising against anyone else at this hour. Today, Saturday Night Live—which occupies that spot—is going on its 37th season.
The Rover and the Betamax may seem like unrelated technologies, but they are not. Sony created technology to quickly and cheaply copy moving pictures and sound to portable film. While one recorded from a lens and the other could record from a television directly, they were both built on the same underlying tools.
How much creativity was Sony’s copying technology responsible for? We’ll never be able to measure exactly, just as we’ll never know what the world would have been like if the VCR court case in 1976 had gone the other way.
What we can say is that the cost of producing, distributing and consuming video continues to fall rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that today there is one hour of video uploaded to YouTube every second. As that platform grows, it will continue to create incredible new opportunities for artists and fans alike.
If history is any guide, then the results of this increase will be inevitable and yet still surprising.
Posted by Derek Slater, Policy Manager at Google