As the Japanese formats arrived in this country, the Thorn-EMI group backed VHS
and flooded their many high-street TV rental shops with low-cost VHS machines.
Sony, meanwhile, were concentrating on quality, and so Beta became a format to
buy while VHS was the format to rent. Unfortunately, most people preferred to
rent, particularly when the simplest machine cost around £700 [2005:
£2000]. This process was then self-reinforcing, because the presence of two
formats made people reluctant to commit to one and risk picking the eventual
loser - and so they rented and waited to see what would happen. By 1980, out of
an estimated 100,000 homes with VCRs, 70% were rented.
Another factor was simple availability. The high street shops couldn't keep up with demand, and found that Beta machines were harder to get, and sometimes came with conditions -- for example, they could only get VCRs from some suppliers if they also ordered TVs. So for a time there were simply more VHS decks available.
Then there was the explosion of tape rental. Cine-film rental clubs had been around for years, but were not particularly popular (In 1980 it was estimated that there were only 100,000 16mm projectors in the UK, and a film on this gauge cost around £200 to buy [2005: £570]) No-one could have forseen how the public would take to video rental; by 1981 rental clubs had appeared; within a few years there were rental shops in every neighbourhood, and every corner shop had a rack of tapes. There were 25,000 shops selling or renting tapes in 1982; there had been none in 1980. But the Betamax suppliers were slow off the mark, and released less films on the format. As more people bought VCRs and started to rent tapes, the greater choice had its effect and VHS started to pull ahead even more rapidly.
By this time, Video 2000 had appeared (and SVR disappeared). In fact, in 1980 it seemed that the battle would be between VHS and V2000, since both systems had access to rental outlets - Radio Rentals, DER and Multibroadcast were all subsidiaries of Thorn-EMI, while Philips had access to the Visionhire and Rediffusion chains. Beta was poorly represented in the rental market, although the hugely successful and sophisticated Sony C5 and C7 machines would change this. The other Beta companies, particularly Sanyo, concentrated on producing simple and low-cost machines to compete directly with VHS, and for a time Beta was significantly cheaper than VHS.
VHS machines were also cheaper to repair, since parts cost less. Whether this was a natural consequence of the technology, or a cunning move by the manufacturers is unknown, though it is hard to see why VHS parts should be inherantly cheaper than Beta. Whatever the reason, this was another incentive to buy VHS - and another to avoid V2000, which as time went on gained a reputation for unreliability. One survey (in Which magazine) found that 59% of V2000 machines had been returned for repair, compared with around 25% for the other two formats.