Max Renn (James Woods) is the president of CIVIC-TV (Channel 83, Cable 12), a sleazy Toronto UHF television station specializing in sensationalistic programming. Displeased with his station's current lineup (which mostly consists of softcore pornography), Renn is on a seemingly endless quest for something that isn't so "soft" and will "break through" to a new audience.
One morning Renn is summoned to the clandestine office of Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), who operates CIVIC-TV's pirate satellite dish, a technologically advanced satellite run on an amalgamation of high-tech components that allows it to pirate broadcasts from as far away as Asia. Harlan shows Renn "Videodrome," a plotless television show apparently being broadcast out of Malaysia, which depicts the brutal torture and eventual murder of anonymous victims in a bizarre, reddish-orange chamber. Believing this to be the future of television-- snuff TV-- Renn orders Harlan to begin pirating the show.
Appearing on a Rena King's TV talk show, Renn defends his station's programming choices to Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry), a sadomasochistic psychiatrist, and Professor Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley), a pop-culture analyst and philosopher who will only appear on television if his image is broadcast into the studio, onto a television, from a remote location. O'Blivion hijacks the interview and delivers a speech prophesying a future in which television supplants real life.
Renn dates Nikki, who is sexually aroused when Renn shows her an episode of Videodrome and coaxes him into having sex with her while they watch it. Renn goes once again to Harlan's office, where Harlan informs him that the signal delay which caused it to appear to be coming from Malaysia was a ploy by the broadcaster. In fact, Videodrome is being broadcast out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Renn tells Nikki of his discovery and she excitedly goes to Pittsburgh to try and audition for the show.
When Nikki fails to return to Toronto, Renn contacts Masha Borowski (Lynne Gorman), a softcore feminist pornographer with long-standing ties to the porn community, and asks her to help him find out the truth about Videodrome. Through Masha, Renn learns that Videodrome is the public "face" of a political ideology movement with unspecified but apparently violent goals. Masha further informs Renn that Brian O'Blivion knows about Videodrome.
Max Renn tracks down O'Blivion's office to The Cathode Ray Mission, a mission where homeless individuals are provided food, shelter, and clothing, and encouraged to engage in marathon sessions of television viewing. Renn discovers that the mission is run by O'Blivion's daughter, Bianca (Sonja Smits), with the goal of helping to bring about her father's vision of a world in which television replaces every aspect of everyday life.
Later, Renn views a videotape in which O'Blivion informs him that "the Videodrome" is a socio-political battleground in which a war is being fought for control of the minds of the people of North America. Shortly thereafter, Renn begins experiencing disturbing hallucinations in which his torso transforms into a bloody, vaginal VCR. In one hallucination, Renn finds himself strapped to a chair while a hooded figure is strangling him. The hood comes off to reveal Nikki. Her lips fill the screen of a TV set where she says: "Come to me." Renn leans in close. Pulling and undulating, the screen envelopes his face.
At the mission, Bianca tells Renn that these are side-effects from having viewed Videodrome, which is in fact the carrier of a malicious broadcast signal that causes the viewer to develop a malignant brain tumor. Brian O'Blivion helped to create it as part of his vision for the future, but when he found out that it was to be used for malicious purposes, he attempted to stop his partners; they used his own invention to kill him. In the year before his death, O'Blivion recorded tens of thousands of videos, which now form the basis of his television appearances. Bianca sends Renn away with an armful of videotapes to watch. As he watches one tape, holding a pistol, he scratches his stomach in which the vagina-like slit opens, into which his gun disappears. On the tape, O'Blivion says: "There is nothing real outside our perception of reality, is there?"
Renn is contacted by Videodrome's producer, the Spectacular Optical Corporation, an eyeglasses company that acts as a front for a NATO weapons manufacturer. The head of Spectacular Optical, Barry Convex, (Leslie Carlson) has been working with Harlan to get Renn to broadcast Videodrome as part of a crypto-government conspiracy to morally and ideologically "purge" North America, giving fatal brain tumors to "lowlifes" fixated on extreme sex and violence. Convex produces a high-tech helmet to record Renn's hallucinations, to find out why he seems to be functioning when none of the other "test subjects" has returned to "normality." Convex places the helmet on Renn's head and leaves the room.
Renn hallucinates himself in Videodrome with Nicki. As he whips an organic TV set, Nicki's image transforms into Masha. Renn wakes up in his own bed with Masha dead at his side. Renn calls Harlan to come over with his camera, but when he arrives, he sees nothing in the bed to photograph. Totally wired, Renn says they must watch last nights Videodrome broadcast as he is in it. At the lab, Harlan reveals that there never was a broadcast, only pre-recorded tapes which he never watched. Just then Convex enters. He says that they chose Channel 83 for the first transmission of the Videodrome signal because of it's sleazy content and audience. "Why would anybody watch a show like Videodrome?" says Convex.
Under Convex's influence he produces a pulsating VHS tape and Renn's stomach-slit opens to receive his program. Convex orders Renn to: "kill your partners and give me Channel 83." Renn pulls his gun back from the slit and black metal tendrils extend into his hand.
Renn goes back to Channel 83 station and shoots both Moses and Raphael in the Channel 8 boardroom, his gun/hand now a single organic fusion. His next program is to kill Bianca O'Blivion. He breaks into the Mission, but hesitates when Bianca plays him Nikki's death scene on Videodrome. She was killed on the show along with all those other people by Spectacular Optical Corporation. A flesh-gun emerges from the TV set and shoots him - a violent deprogramming. Bianca inserts her own tape into Renn's slit. With that she re-programs him to go after the ones responsible for creating Videodrome. She tells him he is: "the video word made flesh. Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh."
Back at the Channel 83 studios, Harlan congratulates Renn on his good work, and changes his program. When Harlen withdraws his hand from Renn's slit to retrieve the videotape program, he is horrified to see his hand become a ticking bloody organic grenade. The explosion kills Harlan and blows a hole in the wall of the studio which Renn calmly steps out.
At the Spectacular Optical trade show at the Toronto Convention Centre, Convex introduces the new spring collection, the Medici range. Renn approaches the stage and shoots Convex with his gun/hand, who falls dead and his entire body erupts in a gory and sickening mass of tumors as people scream and panic. Renn waves his hand/gun to the assembly declaring: "Death to Videodrome! Long live the new flesh!"
Afterwards, Renn takes refuge on a derelict boat in an abandoned harbor, where Nicki appears to him on another television that appears. As Renn sits on a filthy mattress, Nicki tells him he has weakened Videodrome, but that in order to completely defeat it, he has to "leave the old flesh." The television then shows an image of Renn shooting himself in the head with his gun/hand, which causes the TV set to explode, splattering the deck of the ship with bloody, human intestines and multicolored goo. Imitating what he has just seen on TV, Renn says his final words, "Long live the New Flesh", and then he pulls the trigger.