The VCR Age: Home Video and Mass Communication

Mark R. Levy

This book is one of a series of Sage Focus editions--a series devoted to a variety of social science topics, only a few of which are concerned with mass communication. Mark Levy has assembled 13 commissioned research papers on the introduction of videocassette recorders (VCRs) in the home market and the social usage of pre-recorded and blank videotapes. With regard to the approaches taken by the commissioned authors, the most common one is to begin by summarizing what is known about some aspect of VCR usage, follow this by reporting of a small empirical research project undertaken by the authors, and conclude with observations about the research findings, extrapolating from the research to suggest a trend in the usage of this technology. The conclusion often is that more needs to be known about VCR usage in the home. As with any book of papers written by various people, there is some difficulty in finding any development of ideas or theoretical perspectives on the general topic selected for analysis.

Another difficulty is in the ethnocentrism of the book as a whole. Despite the efforts of the editor to give the book a wider scope, the articles are heavily concerned with only American data on VCR usage, with the particularities of American society, or with Americans' perceptions about what is significant in other societies. For Canadian readers, there is the usual disappointment in finding no research about this society. Indeed, research perspectives from any country other than the United States are very limited; only three are represented: Great Britain, Israel, and Sweden.

The book begins with an introductory chapter by the editor, Mark Levy. He sets out the rationale for researching home video as a consumer development worthy of study because the VCR has rapidly reached levels of market acceptance that are comparable to television itself. It appears that the present volume is intended as a contribution in the research effort to understand the social role of VCRs in contemporary society.

The editor's introduction is followed by the thirteen chapters organized into four parts. Part I, containing three chapters, is on "The Growth of Home Video." Bruce Klopfenstein summarizes the market expansion for sales of VCRs and videotapes in the U.S. He is followed by Paul Lindstrom (of Nielsen Media Research), who looks at the U.S. TV audience's usage of VCRs to record TV programs, the playback of TV programming and of videotape rentals. Barry Gunter & Mallory Wober look at the divergent research data that comes from various research methods and also discuss what the actual use and impact of VCRs may be in the British context.

Part II of the book is entitled "Using the VCR" and focuses on the social and psychological factors that probably influence the home video use behaviours being observed. Bradley Greenberg & Carolyn Lin examine the use of VCRs by adolescents while Alan Rubin & Rebecca Rubin look at the reasons why people use home video and relate this usage to various socio-psychological characteristics of the subjects in their research. Milton Shatzer & Thomas Lindlof identify three types of VCR users and relate those types to the life-styles of the users.

Part III has as its focus "The VCR and the Individual." Akiba Cohen & Laura Cohen look at how adept Israeli VCR users are in employing all the features of the machine to maximize its supposed benefits. Barry Sapolsky & Edward Forrest discuss the user practice of zipping by commercial messages and its possible effects on the U.S. television industry. Keith Roe looks at adolescents' video usage and its relationship to their self-esteem and school achievement; his research was conducted in Sweden.

Part IV is entitled "VCRs, Groups, and Societies." Julia Dobrow discusses ways in which some recent members of ethnic minorities in the U.S. have used videos to allow them to retain some ethnic identity. Dov Shinar (the only researcher based in Canada) examines the question of how video equipment could be used to encourage a more participatory role in television and concludes, from research at an Israeli kibbutz, that television remains a mass medium. Christine Ogan examines market data on video-taping and VCRs in 67 countries; she is particularly concerned with researching the cross-cultural effects of using VCRs, especially in Third World countries. Finally, Douglas Boyd looks at anecdotal information from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe about the availability and usage of VCRs and videotapes from the West.

On the whole, this book is not very useful because it approaches the relationship between home video and mass communication with little or no theoretical framework within which to understand its social significance. Despite the methodical nature of the research reported, and the detailed mathematical analysis that is sometimes applied, the authors' projects do not provide insight into the social implications of the widespread usage of VCRs in households--even in the United States. The book has little to say about the use of VCRs in Third World or more developed countries where usage patterns appear to be quite different from those found in the U.S.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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