In an entertaining holiday-themed video that’s part educational and part “bah humbug,” YouTuber Azriel Knight explains how Kodak managed to ruin Christmas for two decades of photographers. It’s a fascinating story of schmaltzy ads, dead film formats, and a huge patent lawsuit that cost them almost $1 billion.
Knight decided to put this together after watching tens of sappy Kodak holiday commercials from the 1970s and 1980s. Commercials that, by and large, advertised Kodak cameras that used proprietary film formats—instant film, 110 film, and disc film to be exact.
Both 110 film and disc film ultimately died, leaving thousands of photographers with cameras that were completely useless. But the instant film, that’s a totally different story. Debuted in 1976, the cameras sought to win some market share back from Polaroid, who dominated this market. But Polaroid sued Kodak, accusing them of infringing on 12 of Polaroid’s instant photography patents, and they won big.
The lawsuit cost Kodak $909 million when the judgement was finally handed down in 1990, which is the equivalent of $1.7 billion in 2019.
Worse yet, Kodak was so certain they were going to get an injunction, that they failed to remove products from store shelves until the ruling actually came down, which gave them just one day to scrap everything. Imagine buying an instant camera on Friday and, by Monday, you could no longer find any film for the camera in question.
Of course, the Polaroid debacle is just the most extreme example Knight gives; whether it was instant film or disc film or 110 film, there were several Kodak products that were heavily advertised one year and useless a few years later.
Watch the full video up top to learn about all of these film formats and see plenty of nostalgia-inducing Kodak Holiday commercials. And if you liked this deep dive into photo history, check out Knight’s YouTube channel for lots more like it.