RIP: Home Video Pioneer Andre Blay

When Sony launched the first videocassette recorder in 1975, it was just a matter of time before movies would become available on tape for viewing at home — a foreign concept at the time — but Andre Blay got the ball rolling and started a business that would forever change the way Americans enjoy entertainment at home. Blay passed away August 24 in Bonita Springs, FL at age 81.

Known as the father of home video, Blay founded the Magnetic Video Corporation (MVC) in 1969, which became the first company to release theatrical motion pictures on videocassette in 1977, the year JVC introduced the VHS videocassette recorder (VCR) to compete with the Betamax recorder Sony launched in 1975.

Movies on tape came at a time when the public was just barely getting used to the idea of using a VCR to “time shift” TV shows for later viewing. Up until that point you had the choice of going to the movies or watching TV shows on a schedule.

“The whole population was bound to a scheduling,” as Blay put it in a 2016 interview with Michigan State University’s (MSU) Media Sandbox (see video below). “When we came along [and put the first movie on videotape] it was like opening Pandora’s box.”

MVC launched the videocassette business by paying an annual fee to license movies from 20th Century Fox’s catalog. The venture was so successfully that Fox bought Magnetic Video in 1979 and named Blay CEO of its new 20th Century Fox Video subsidiary.

In those early days, Blay started a club called the Video Club of America.” I took an ad out in TV Guide, which reached about 24 million people, that said: ‘Welcome to the World of Video, Now’s Your Chance to Own Your Own Movies.’ It ran Thanksgiving 1977.”

MVC started with 50 titles — the first films available on video from a major studio. Among them were Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The King and I, Patton, Dr. Doolittle, and Valley of the Dolls.

“I released all 50 titles at once because I wanted consumers to know there was variety,” he said. “Movies have always been marketed in what they call windows. The first window was theatrical, the second was HBO, and the third was called syndication — selling movies to independent TV stations. I was the fourth window.

“When the industry started, of course, I owned 100% of it,” Blay continued. “Two years later I still owned 50% of it, so I felt like the industry was my baby...My part was as the instigator but I can’t take credit for building the whole industry. Everybody got into it.”

Over the years, Blay received many awards and was inducted into the Video Hall of Fame and Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame and named MSU Business Alumni of Year and CMU Executive in Residence.

Blay produced many films and was the author of “Pre-Recorded History,” his entrepreneurial memoir. In retirement, Blay shared his passion for business by speaking to students at MSU, UCLA, Central Michigan University Business School, High Point University, and Florida Gulf Coast University.

He was born in Mount Clemens, MI and married Nancy Fleming on December 6th, 1957 in Mt. Pleasant, MI. He was a loyal Michigan State University Spartan, receiving his B.A. in 1959, his M.B.A. in 1977, and eventually becoming director and president of the MSU Foundation. Andre served his country in the ROTC and U.S. Army Reserves.

Blay is survived by Nancy, his wife of 60 years, their children Robert (Miriam) of Granby, CO, and Cynthia (David) of Falmouth, ME, and their grandchildren, Mae, Annie (Brian), Stephanie, Madison, and Mackenzie.

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