Beta off with VHS, say video’s lost souls

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald on October 22, 1990

The comedian Anthony Ackroyd tells the story of an endangered species found only in the corners of the local video store.

“There are always two or three people looking sad, sometimes even crying,” he says. “These are the people who bought Beta video machines. They have two, maybe three movies to choose from tonight.”

Bob Gould sorts through his large Beta video collection at his premises in King Street, Newtown.

Bob Gould sorts through his large Beta video collection at his premises in King Street, Newtown.Credit:Tim Clayton

Beta losers are the sport of gag writers. The machines have joined that dynasty of consumer white elephants which includes such icons of capitalist fallibility as the Leyland P-76, quadraphonic speaker systems, pet rocks, Splayds (a knife, fork and spoon in one), soap-on-a-rope and eight-track cartridge machines.

Seven years ago, Beta movies accounted for almost a quarter of all rentals in NSW. But now, according to Video Ezy’s general manager, Mr Kevin Slater, Beta accounts for only one in 36 movies leaving its stores.

The machines, he says, are reaching the end of their lifespan, and with only one company, Sony, distributing the hardware locally (the cheapest model is $839), the outlook is bleak for Beta.

But not bleak enough to deter Mr Bob Gould, who stocks 6,000 Beta video titles at Gould’s Book Arcade in King Street, Newtown. “Anyone who says Beta is dead is crazy,” he said. “They are consumer durable artefacts. “A video machine, even the less favoured sort, isn’t the kind of thing you throw away. You give it to someone or you flog it secondhand.

“There were probably about half a million sold and 300,000 are still out there.”

His store, which also stocks 14,000 VHS titles, acquired the Beta tapes on the secondhand market, where they fetch between $3 and $15, compared with $25 to $40 for VHS tapes.

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