BBC Video was established in 1980 as a division of BBC Enterprises (later BBC Worldwide) with John Ross Barnard as head.
At launch, the BBC had no agreement with British talent unions such as Equity or the Musician's Union (MU), so BBC Video was limited in the television programming it could release. Initial videocassette and laserdisc releases were either programmes with no Equity or MU involvement, such as natural history and other documentaries, or material licensed from third parties, including feature films such as High Noon and the first video release of Deep Purple's California Jam concert.
For the first few years, videos were produced on both VHS and Betamax formats. The BBC also worked with Philips on early Laserdisc releases, including a notable ornithology disc called British Garden Birds, presented by David Attenborough. This disc was published in 1982 and included digital data in the form of teletext, which could be read by any suitably-equipped television. This pioneering use of a data channel on a consumer video led directly to the development of the BBC Domesday Project in 1984-1986. Since videos could have stereo soundtracks, BBC Video produced stereophonic versions of many programmes that had been broadcast in mono. These included The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (although release was delayed due to the lack of an Equity agreement) and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.