Red Queens: DVDs versus Video-On-Demand

A Red Queen is an evolutionary concept that exists when “a set of interacting species reaches an evolutionary equilibrium at which all their rates of coevolution exactly balance each other.” (Rosenzweig, Brown, & Vicent, 1987).  In technological terms, this means that competing technologies often result in two product leaders that have to run to keep still, a quotation from the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland; i.e. they only remain the leader if they evolve much faster than their competitor.

Having been around long enough to witness many Red Queens in my lifetime, home entertainment is a perfect example of this evolutionary concept.  If you remember the early days of video players, you may also remember the two main formats that evolved as the leaders; BetaMax (Sony) and VHS (JVC).  VHS became the eventual leader and BetaMax was consigned to extinction.  Why was this?  BetaMax was of a superior quality when compared to VHS.  The answer was simply one of price and that a single VHS tape could hold more footage than a BetaMax tape (Liszewski, 2014), hence the, now defunct, video rental industry adopted the VHS standard, which in turn compelled those with video players to have VHS in their homes; goodbye BetaMax.

Today we have a similar competition between DVDs versus Video-On-Demand.  As a proponent of Video-On-Demand, I sold my last DVD player in 2010 and re-bought everything I wanted in electronic format, there is a Red Queen situation.  DVDs offer a quality product that suits the equipment and lack of network environment of many users and Video-On-Demand offers convenience and arguably a lower price. With a DVD you do not need an Internet connection at all, whereas for Video-On-Demand you need to download or live stream the content, which implies that you need a network with sufficient speed or infrastructure to cope with the data and storage requirements.  The evolutionary race is being pitched as one of a quality experience (DVD) over convenience (Video-On-Demand).  Video-On-Demand is addressing the bandwidth by using greater compression technologies and/or software techniques to deliver the product however these often result in a loss in quality.  Even with these Video-On-Demand challenges, we are seeing that DVDs are in serious decline (Lieberman, 2015).

In terms of the future for these technologies according to McLuhan’s Tetrad:

McLuhan’s Tetrad DVD (Obsolescence) Video-On-Demand (Enhancement)
What is enhanced? Quality Convenience
What is made obsolete? Video Physical Media
What is rekindled? Media Interaction (Special Features) Mobile viewing
What will make this obsolete? Video-On-Demand Enhancement with interactive media


Lieberman, D. (2015). Home Video Sales Fell In 2014 As Disc Decline Outpaced Digital Growth. Retrieved November 5, 2015, from

Liszewski, A. (2014). Betamax vs. VHS: How Sony Lost the Original Home Video Format War. Retrieved November 5, 2015, from

Rosenzweig, M. L., Brown, J. S., & Vicent, T. L. (1987). Red Queens and ESS: the coeveolution of evolutionary rates. Evolutionary Ecology, 1(November 2015), 59–94. doi:10.1007/BF02067269