Tech #9: Home Movies

The home movie or slideshow was once a big part of American social life. After a vacation or wedding, the family and friends would gather ‘round for the viewing… often bored to tears, but that was part of the experience. Nowadays, video recording has become so common that it has all but lost its “specialness”. There’s hardly a reason to invite people over to look at slides from your Bahamas trip – just post your stuff on Facebook or Flickr and be done with it. The communal aspect of the movie is kinda faded.

In the 1950s, the 16mm camera was fairly common, but it was still pretty expensive for the average family to afford (about $500 in today’s currency). It wasn’t until the Super8 hit the market that it got cheap, and therefore widespread. In the 1980’s, you had the fairly expensive and clunky cassette video recorders, and, finally, in the last decade, digital video recorders became historically cheap, and a standard feature on mobile phones.


So, what drives the advancement of home movie technology? A lot of people claim it’s pornography. However, there are two sides on this issue.

You can’t deny home movie projectors were widely used for stag movies – short pornographic “loops” that were quite popular in Europe as well as the States. However, the catalyst for its development may have been due to the Super8’s cheap mass production rather than porn revenue. 

The Vintage Audience

It’s a commonly held belief that Betamax was killed by a US pornographers’ unanymous decision to adopt the VHS over the Betamax; however, the story behind the VHS ascension is a lot more complex than that. Suffice it to say that there were plenty of Betamax porn movies produced, easily disproving this myth.

VHS Memories

One thing that would seem irrefutable is the huge impact of pornography on the innovations in pay-cable. However, according to Forbes, the impact of pornography on the media business as a whole is marginal at best. According to Forbes.com, adult video income is only approximately $1 billion. The industry is tiny next to broadcast television ($32.3 billion ), cable television ($45.5 billion), the newspaper business ($27.5 billion), Hollywood ($31 billion), even to professional and educational publishing ($14.8 billion).

That being said, the numbers surrounding the porn industry are very unclear. I’ve read several sources that claim the porn industry made $12 billion just on DVD sales in 2007, and overall sales figures are something like $100 billion! Indeed, according to 60 Minutes, DirectTV alone made $500 million just from its adult channels, and hotel chains report that 70 percent of their in-room profit is from the porn channels. This would seem to fly in the face of the Forbes study.

So, the truth about how much the porn industry rakes in seems to be dependent on who you ask.

Home Movies

Subsequently, the catalyst that has driven the advancement of the home movie is still up for debate. What will be interesting to see is where the home movie technology is taken in the next ten years. My guess is that it can’t get much cheaper or convenient. The improvements will be in the form of quality and ability to manipulate. In other words, it may soon be that you can make a Hollywood quality film in your backyard, complete with high quality sound and CGI effects.

We’ve certainly come a long way from those boring vacation slideshows. I guess that’s a good thing, right?

While you ponder that, here's a few home movie equipment ads from yesteryear. Cheers!



  1. Anyone with a good eye and editing skills can do Hollywood quality results, CGI included, on the cheap even right now. I go back to the days of Super 8 (I had that Bolex camera shown above), and am astounded at what an affordable HD camcorder can do. And quality budget lighting and audio options are there too. As far as quality ideas, that's another matter!

  2. Legs McNeil wrote a book called "The Other Hollywood" which has a section about the making of and distribution of the old loops. Interesting book for those whole like oral history (or smut...or both).

    A lot of old Super 8 stuff is darn near impossible to find...just look for an old copy of Super 8 Filmmaker on ebay sometime.

    Super 8 still has it's devotees, I think that the porn end of it is pretty dead but check out this forum


    Amazing stuff. I had a bunch of old Ken Films, Castle, etc. digests back in the day but not anymore.

  3. Where are the 60s and 70s films today, as far as being able to see them on the internet? Lots of PICS out there, but...

    I heard recently of one porn developer who has devised a discreet plug-in devise that can hold HOURS of material. You pocket it, take it wherever with you, and if you have a computer or similar device to plug it into....

    Al Bigley

  4. Good post, and one I can quibble with little without digging up numbers. I do still believe, however, rendering the naked female form has driven nearly every visual innovation (and market for same) since we could walk upright. I also believe the first commercial use of a home hologram will prove me right. Also missing from the stats are organized crime dollars...from the 1950s on (and quite possibly earlier) they had a chunk of the unreported market and during the porn heyday, mob duplicating of the films was a HUGE business. Thanks for the post, which was a good one.

  5. "and hotel chains report that 70 percent of their in-room profit is from the porn channels. This would seem to fly in the face of the Forbes study."

    I used to manage a hotel and the free industry trade magazines we were pelted with were full of ads for just the opposite. There is, apparently, a market for just the opposite. Almost all of the ads didn't so much address straight on porn as refer to the content of pay per view in general. The only program I remember seeing called by name was 'Sex and the city.'

    I agree with Jim's post above, is it just me or does the song 'Lemon' by U2 pretty much describe exactly what he is talking about?

  6. Great posts.
    I join you in the idea that porn has a huge role in the technological development, especially everything that can brings video at home...
    (great ads too!)

  7. I also agree that pornography drives video ingenuity. I also think that porn is a media that doesn't need to advertise-if you are a porn aficionado, you know where to find what you like.this might explain why it is hard toi get accurate data.

    BTW, Al Bigley, lot of those older films can be found on USENET.