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Media evolves, people adopt


Everyone remembers the dead media, those technologies relegated to the margins, such as the high-end Sony Betamax or the low-end 8-tracks.

But who remembers how long it actually took for the mass market to embrace various media delivery devices? Does anyone actually remember people shelling out $1,300 for a brand-new Betamax or about $1,000 for the format's arch-nemesis, VHS? Mind you, these figures have not been adjusted for inflation.

Market research firm InfoTech of Woodstock, Vermont, says that the sweet spot in the mass market for a new media platform is at about 10 million units installed. Why? The answer lies in the development of an economy of scale, where several vendors begin to compete, production processes get streamlined, and consumers become interested enough to stimulate sales so that prices decline. Indeed, by the late 1980s, VHS VCRs were selling at roughly a third of what they went for when first introduced, according to the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association.

However, the historical record shows that such a development can take time. It was 1972 before half of U.S. households had at least one color television set. There may have been a good reason for that, too: The networks weren't all using color for prime-time broadcasts until 1966.

Color TV took a while compared with more recent innovations, which seemed to find widespread acceptance rather quickly. Will we see such a rapid buildup for DVD? Perhaps. With all the industry ducks lined up, "10 million [units sold] in four years doesn't sound unbelievable," said Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future.