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[greenyes] Disney's Single Use and Discard DVD's

NEW YORK TIMES - 7/21/03
DVD's Meant for Buying but Not for Keeping

Ann Johansson for The New York Times

LOS ANGELES, July 20 - Video rental stores want customers to return their
movies, they just do not want them to do so too quickly.
When tapes and DVD's are returned after the due date, late fees often double
the cost of a rental - highly annoying to consumers while providing no
additional revenue to the studios that make the movies.
To help consumers avoid those fees, while trying to develop new revenue, the
Walt Disney Company's home video division plans to test market a new type of
DVD that will be priced about the same as a rental but never needs to be
returned - because it stops working after a fixed period of time.
It is an experiment that will be closely watched in Hollywood, where the
home video market last year represented nearly 59 percent of the film
industry's $17.38 billion in North American revenue, according to Adams
Media Research. Late fees are a lucrative source of additional income for
Blockbuster Inc., which is a unit of Viacom Inc., and its competitors.
Typically, the late fees account for more than 10 percent of the gross
rental revenue at most outlets, according to the Video Software Dealers
But, those extra fees do little or nothing to bolster the bottom lines of
the film studios, which usually make most of their rental revenue from the
initial sale of VHS and DVD copies to retail outlets. The test, by Disney's
Buena Vista Home Entertainment could be a way to change that.
Set to roll out in September with eight titles in four markets, Disney's new
EZ-D DVD self-destructs 48 hours after the purchaser opens the special
airtight package. The disc is composed of a Lexan resin co-polymer developed
by GE Plastics. The General Electric Company owns a minority stake in
Flexplay Technologies, the company that owns the underlying process and has
licensed it to Disney.
Once the product is exposed to the elements, a chemical clock starts
ticking, turning the disc black and making it unreadable by a DVD player's
laser after the designated time has elapsed. Until that happens, the disc
can be played as often as desired. Employing a chemical rather than software
process to disable the disc is meant to ensure that the process will work
with any DVD player. And like any standard DVD, the discs can have software
copyright protection that would deter a user from copying them onto the hard
drive of a computer or onto a blank DVD that would not self-destruct.
Disney hopes that the purchase price of $5 to $7 will be close enough to the
cost of a typical DVD rental that many customers will consider it an easy
impulse buy.
Disney will be the first studio to license EZ-D from Flexplay. Among the
other video leaders, the home-video divisions of Paramount, Sony and Warner
Brothers declined to comment on their possible interest in the technology.
Convenience will attract consumers to the concept, the chief executive of
Flexplay, Alan Blaustein, said. "With EZ-D, we are taking late fees and the
video return process out of the equation."
A limited-play DVD service has been tried before - in 1998 - and it failed.
But, EZ-D proponents argue that this time will be different. The DVD is now
more popular and widely understood. That lends support to EZ-D discs because
they will play on a standard DVD machine. To make them readily accessible,
Disney plans on selling them in nontraditional outlets not usually
associated with video sales or rentals, like convenience stores and gas
stations. By sidestepping video rental outlets, Disney will be able to
eliminate the middleman and keep a higher percentage of each disc's revenue.
At the same time, Disney wants to make sure that its EZ-D sales do not
reduce rental profits. So the EZ-D titles will not be available until six
weeks after the film is first released in standard video rental stores. To
further differentiate the two products, the self-destructing versions will
contain the movie but not any of the additional features that helped make
the DVD format so popular, like missing scenes and director's commentaries.

If the EZ-D disc is a success, its detractors say, expect to see an
environmental mess, as millions of now useless discs clog the landfills with
nonbiodegradable polymers. To counter these concerns, Flexplay has agreed to
a partnership with a national recycler to collect used discs.
Even if the discs are not recycled, single-use disposable DVD's will result
in net energy savings, according to a study conducted by Jonathan Koomey,
staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "The solid waste
impacts may be more than completely offset by the gasoline saved from
avoided trips to the video store. Gasoline savings could be 7.5 to 20 times
larger than the increase in solid waste," Mr. Koomey said in an e-mail
Mr. Blaustein of Flexplay sees a wide range of other applications for its
time-limited DVD technology. Screening cassettes of new films, review copies
of CD's, or expensive technical catalogs would all be less likely to be
pirated if they stopped working shortly after use.
Based on recent comments made by Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chairman and
chief executive, those other markets may prove to be important revenue
sources for Flexplay.
Speaking at a Sanford C. Bernstein conference last month in New York, Mr.
Eisner indicated that he expected the EZ-D test to be short-lived.
"I think it probably won't work," he said. "I think it's going to boomerang
on us, but it's a test."
Those backing the Flexplay effort say that Mr. Eisner is being too
pessimistic and that consumers will fall in love with the EZ-D idea once
they are see it.
Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
Ph:    (608) 231-1100
Fax:   (608) 233-0011
Cell    (608) 438-9062
email: anderson@no.address

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