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The Eyes Have It

Savvy investors know that the key to success in the stock market is not necessarily picking the individual stocks that …

Savvy investors know that the key to success in the stock market is not necessarily picking the individual stocks that are most likely to outperform the market in the weeks, months, and even years to come, but homing in on the industries most likely to experience above-average growth in the near future. More than a handful of highly successful investors have been known to scoop up whole bushels of stocks in industries that they like, rather than burning the midnight oil figuring out which stocks to buy in industries not expected to do so well. The question, then, is which industry investors should be zeroing in on right now.

The answer, though it may come as a surprise to many, is the videotape industry. Sales of blank videotapes will grow to $650 billion a year in this country alone by the year 2000, making the industry second only to aerobic footwear, Wall Street analysts say. Though novelties such as video job rejections, video marriage proposals, video co-op eviction notices, and video wildcat strikes will account for some of this explosive growth, most of the boom will be fueled by ordinary consumer taping of their children’s and their neighbors’ activities, and by electronic documentation of business transactions with people the person with the video camera is eventually likely to sue.

For example, by 1995, 73 percent of the dentists’ appointments in the U.S. will be recorded on videotape, along with 67 percent of the semi-annual car inspections, 59 percent of the weekly visits to the dry cleaners, 54 percent of the trips to Indian restaurants, and 47 percent of the package trips to the Caribbean. In each case, the videotape will be stored in a safe-deposit box or vault for use in court should the dentist do a hatchet job on the lower molars, the mechanic lie about replacing the clutch, the dry cleaner spill beer all over the mink stole, the tofu saag with chulcha paratha on the side cause hepatitis, or the hotel in Antigua turn out to be rat-infested.

Another huge market will be the use of home videotapes for electronic documentation of children’s intelligence, for use when applying to nursery schools.

“Many children tense up in interviews, creating the impression that they are emotionally disturbed-or even morons,” says Mellisa Padgett-Wrye, executive director of Pedagogical Image, a Lowell, MA, videotape editing company that tailors its services toward quiet, retiring, or flat-out dumb children. “With a minicam, the parent can videotape his or her child at home in isolated moments of creativity and use this as evidence that the child actually has a brain, and is not just some dummy the cat dragged in. In many cases, this is the only way the parent could ever persuade the school authorities that the child has a brain.”

Videotapes will also be used as a record of lawn mower and sugar bowl loans to neighbors, as well as to tape loud parties and howling schnauzers. This alone will account for 33 percent of the industry’s growth in the next eight years.

“Americans have entered into an unprecedented period of mistrust and even contempt for their neighbors,” says Jack Smith, president of Citizens For Better, or at the Very Least, Tolerable Neighbors, a Washington, DC, lobbying group. “You might as well get a few hours of footage of your neighbors being obnoxious, because sooner or later you’re going to be seeing these pathetic losers in court.”

Industry observers also believe that an increasing number of videos will be used in divorce cases as proof of conjugal friction.

“If Hubby’s the kind of guy who likes to use you for target practice with the cutlery, you really should get it all on tape,” opines Dr. Merlin Arp, an electronic marriage consultant based in Aspen, CO. “And if there’s anything kinky about your partner, get that minicam rolling…”

Not everyone agrees that the videotape explosion is a blessing. Muriel Prokoviev, founder of the Urban Realism

Foundation, warns that some parents, anxious to get rid of their kids, have rigged up phony videos, using child actors, to deceive judges and reform school authorities into thinking that their children are actually sociopaths who deserve to spend a good, long time in the slammer.

“It’s morally abhorrent,” says Prokoviev, “but it certainly isn’t very expensive.”

Another demurring note is sounded by the nation’s police forces, which caution citizens against leaving a videotaped inventory of one’s possessions lying around the house, because burglars-many of them alerted by a recent cover story in House Penetrable-will ransack homes, dig out these videotapes, load them up on the VCR, and find out what the really valuable stuff in the house is.

“Without the aid of a videotape, most 1 of these two-bit hoods would end up stealing the $9.95 velveteen picture of the dogs playing poker that they found hanging in the den,” warns J.P. Trumbo, a San Diego security consultant. “Now, once they see the video, they know which one is the Picasso and which one is the Leroy Nieman.”

On the subject of dogs, Dalton Gavotte, executive marketing director of The Sharper Dachshund, a Beverly Hills private investigation agency, warns pet lovers against leaving videotapes of frolicking puppies around the house.

“Make a videotape of a cuddly little beagle with wiggly little ears and a cute little nose and you’re literally telling every pet-napper in the tri-state area: ‘Hey, you guys! Come and get him’!” says Gavotte. “My advice, if you’ve got a lovable pet, is beat him with a stick til he’s less lovable. Just joking.”


Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal.

About Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.