Andre Blay, 1937–2018
The VHS innovator who brought movies home
In 1977, Andre Blay realized that the movie business was about to undergo a revolution. Sony and other electronic firms had just begun to mass-produce home video recorders, which they thought consumers would only use to record TV shows. But Blay—who ran a 12-employee firm making corporate training videos and audiotapes in suburban Detroit—realized that people might also buy copies of movies, so that they could watch them whenever they wanted in their own home. He wrote to seven major film studios, offering to market their movies on videocassette. Only 20th Century Fox replied, eventually licensing to him The French Connection, M*A*S*H, and dozens of other titles. By the end of 1978, his Magnetic Video Corp. had sold 250,000 tapes at $50 each; the following year, Fox bought his company for $7.2 million. “I’m a futuristic type of guy,” he said in 1982 of his success, “and I looked at what industries were going to be significant tomorrow.”
Born in Mount Clemens, Mich., Blay joined Corning Glass Works in 1960 “and learned how to run factories,” said The Wall Street Journal. Lear Jet Corp. hired him five years later to oversee a plant making eight-track tapes, and Blay said he became fascinated “that one could get such beautiful stereophonic music from a tiny oxide ribbon.” He founded Magnetic Video Corp. in 1969 and made his company into a giant with his Fox deal. “In return for a $300,000 advance and a $7.50 royalty on each title sold, [Fox] licensed 50 films to MVC,” said HollywoodReporter.com. Studio executives “apparently had no comprehension or grasp of what they were signing away,” Blay wrote later.
“As the price of recorders plummeted to about $500 from about $1,000, sales boomed,” said The New York Times. So did video rentals, and by 1987 “home video was generating more revenue than movie-theater ticket sales.” Blay turned from movie copying to movie producing in 1981, working on Sid and Nancy, The Name of the Rose, and The Princess Bride, among other films. Videotapes would eventually be killed off by DVDs, and DVDs by streaming, but Blay remained proud of how he had changed consumer habits. “Home video has become a lifestyle, just like going to movies on Friday night,” he said, “though I can’t say I visualized it at the time.”