[vcf-midatlantic] Sunday afternoon: from the Sarnoff Collection: Vinyl Videos Opening Reception and Zoom/In-Person Informal Discussion

Jeffrey Jonas jeffrey.scott.jonas at gmail.com
Sun Apr 24 10:01:08 UTC 2022

For folks not enjoying VCF-East in person, on channel 2 is a webcast from
the RCA Sarnoff Museum:


The Sarnoff Collection
Vinyl Videos Opening Reception and Zoom/In-Person Informal Discussion

April 24, 2022: Reception 1pm; Zoom/In-Person Informal Discussion 2-3:30pm

Vinyl Videos: The Rise and Fall of the RCA Videodisc
on view through November \xe2\x80\x94 examines the creation, introduction,
and fate of an innovative RCA commercial product line.

On Sunday April 24, to mark the opening of the exhibit, the Sarnoff
welcomes campus and community friends to a public reception (1pm)
followed by a live/Zoom conversation (2-3:30pm) among Videodisc project
leaders and scholars and historians of science, technology. and innovation.

Presented live and via Zoom
No reservations necessary
To attend via Zoom:

Participants include Dr. Margaret Graham, author, The Business of Research:
RCA and The Videodisc;
Dr. Benjamin Gross, author, The TVs of Tomorrow: How RCA\xe2\x80\x99s
Flat-Screen Dreams Led to the First LCDs;
Dr. John A. van Raalte, lead RCA Videodisc researcher;
Brian Wallace, curator, Sarnoff Collection.
Flori Pierri, assistant curator at the MIT Museum, will moderate the

Vinyl Videos: The Rise and Fall of the RCA Videodisc

The RCA Videodisc system \xe2\x80\x93 along with the story of its creation,
introduction, and impact on the RCA corporation \xe2\x80\x93
embodies the curious power and fragility of corporate innovation.

This exhibit uses objects, images, and documents from the Sarnoff archives
along with first-hand and scholarly accounts
of this product\xe2\x80\x99s development and demise to examine the complex
relationships between
basic research, business decision-making, and product development and

For much of the 20th century, RCA defined and dominated the fields of
communication, information, and entertainment. RCA created products and
provided the capital needed to manufacture and market those products and
the highly-desirable content that drove sales of those products: record
players and a vast catalog of music; radio and its multitude of broadcast
programs; black and white and then color television and that
medium\xe2\x80\x99s broad range of programs. Implicit in this success was
the need to combine the next innovation with the next market niche and
continue the cycle.

In 1964, company executives decided to focus on the pursuit of a
commercially viable video playback. 1972, RCA announced that a product
named Videodisc would be on the market the following year. However, that
year and then several more years passed, as difficulties crept into the
development process. Some problems were research-based or technical. Some
were rooted in a poor understanding of the home user: early designs failed
to account for damage from fingerprints, dust, and scratches. Other
problems are best characterized as poor leadership followed by sub-optimal
responses: some executives ignored the greater status afforded to
researchers at the more theoretical end of the spectrum (and to managers in
the greater New York/Princeton area as opposed to in Indiana and elsewhere
in the mid-West).

Research and test work continued through the mid and late 1970s. Variations
to disc materials and design and in the approach to needle/cartridge
materials, a plastic sleeve totally enclosing the disc, and simplified and
smaller player design all contributed to a new line of devices and programs
set to drive a new mutually-reinforcing category of sales that built on,
rather than cannibalized, the market for televisions.

The Videodisc system was introduced in March 1981, promoted heavily for two
years, sold poorly, and pulled from the market in 1984. RCA itself was sold
to rival General Electric in 1987 in a deal that cost shareholders,
workers, and pensioners billions in today\xe2\x80\x99s dollars. What went
wrong? VHS videotape, introduced a crucial few months before Videodisc,
offered a hard-to-define physical convenience, a lower sale price, and the
availability of a rapidly increasing number of titles at a growing number
of retail stores. As well, videotape allowed consumers to record
programming to be played back at their convenience (a behavior
unanticipated by RCA marketing research) \xe2\x80\x93 and it initiated a
boom in renting, not selling, of content (another behavior RCA failed to

RCA, at this key moment, was also struggling to adapt to an increasingly
global business environment, grappling with its own capital and labor
issues, and only slowly \xe2\x80\x93 too slowly, as it turned out
\xe2\x80\x93 coming to terms with the impact its acquisition and subsequent
sale of large corporate units unrelated to its core industries had on the
long-term health of the organization.

This program is made possible in part by the Mercer County Cultural and
Heritage Commission
through funding from the New Jersey Historical Commission and the Mercer
County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

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