BBC Home Media was established in 1980 as a division of BBC Enterprises (later BBC Worldwide) with John Ross Barnard as the 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. Initially, video cassette and laser-disc 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, the BBC produced videotapes in both VHS and Beta-max formats. The company 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 format 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 for lack of an Equity agreement) and the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer.
By 1982, an agreement had been reached with the Musicians' Union and this led to some popular music releases (including compilations by John Martyn and Tom Robinson).
The label established itself in 1984. The label grew significantly from £13 million turnover in 1989 to nearly £39 million in 1994. In 1991, BBC Video was the number-one video label in the UK when it sold more prerecorded videotapes, by value as well as by unit count, than any other company, including all of the Hollywood studios.
BBC Video was well known for its releases of Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, Only Fools and Horses, One Foot in the Grave, Blake's 7, Pride & Prejudice, Life on Earth, The Human Body, Walking with Dinosaurs, Scotch & Wry, Red Dwarf, Porridge, Dad's Army, Yes Minister, Doctor Who, and Monty Python's Flying Circus, as well as the children's programmes Postman Pat, Fireman Sam, Wallace & Gromit, Noddy, Teletubbies, and Pingu. The company release titles in the United Kingdom through 3M as well as directly, while releasing them in North America through CBS/Fox Video (from the 1980s to 1990s, originally through the children's subsidiary Playhouse Video for Doctor Who until unedited releases began) and more recently Warner Home Video (2000–present) and in Australia through Roadshow Entertainment and ABC Video/DVD.