"Your DVD will become unplayable in 48 hours..." If Disney and Flexplay are successful, this will be the message appearing on most rental DVDs and new DVD movies targeted for sale at convenience stores, mall kiosks, and maybe even your local coffeeshop, in the coming months.
Basically, the concept works like this: you, the consumer, buys or rents the DVD (to be known as the "EZ-D"). However, once the seal on the DVD package is broken, the clock starts ticking towards a self-destruct time limit (such as 36 or 48 hours). The DVD can be viewed as many times as you wish during that time period, then throw it away.
This is how EZ-D works. There is a chemical coating on the DVD that, when exposed to air, starts a slow decaying process. The DVD turns color over time and then becomes unplayable. Flexplay "assures" that this process will not affect playback quality or repeated play ability until the designated self-destruct time. The decaying process is final and cannot be hacked or reversed. The disc is useless at this point and cannot be reused.
Disney and Flexplay are touting EZ-D as giving consumers much more choice on how and where DVDs can be purchased, rented, or viewed. Many consumers just want to watch a movie without the hassle of returning it to the video rental store, mailing it back to an online rental service, or putting on the shelf to collect dust. In addition, promoters of the the self-destructing DVD claim that it will have no effect on the availability of standard DVDs for movie buffs and others who collect discs and enjoy the extra features that standard DVDs offer the consumer.
Since its inception, the DVD has turned into the dominant form of watching videos at home. Consumers and retailers have embraced the little disc in a manner unlike any other media distribution product in history. In fact, recordable DVD (despite a plethora of competing formats) is quickly encroaching on the VCR, especially with the use of PC-DVD burners. From family photos to vacation camcorder videos, preserving memories on DVD will replace inferior VHS recordings in a few years.
However, as advances in DVD technology make it easier to access and make video programming, the disposable DVD is about to add a consequence to DVD viewing that is undesirable and is creating criticism: "Where does it go after you use it?" The thought of mountains of "used" DVDs filling up garbage cans, dumpsters, and landfills isn't very appealing; we have too many disposable items already. Even if they can be recycled and the government gets the bright idea of placing a recycling tax on them (oops!), most consumers will just throw them away.
Designer waste cans just for DVDs are probably on the way!
Disney and Flexplay claim the new EZ-D is geared towards the rental and impulse market, but I believe there is more to this than meets the eye. In my opinion, there are several goals at work here. One is to decrease the public ownership of copyrighted video material. Disney, especially, is very protective about the use, possession, and unauthorized copying of its video products by consumers. Also, Disney and others, stand to increase their revenue greatly depending how they price EZ-Ds, especially if the consumers buy them over-and-over again and EZ-D pushes standard DVDs off the shelf. Lastly, the EZ-D may also impact the used DVD market, which the movie studios don't make any money on. Trading and selling used DVDs is very popular.
Will consumers embrace the disposable DVD? Only market reaction will tell. Circuit City tried this concept a few years back (remember DIVX?) and lost millions. However, unlike Circuit City's concept, the EZ-D does not require a special type of DVD player. I am not thrilled with the idea of another try at this concept, but can't wait to check it out for myself. Watch for a followup report...
UPDATE 10/28/03: Two-Day DVDs a Slow Sale - Reported by Wired - Disposable DVDs have been available on some store shelves for over a month, but customers don't seem to be "biting". At $7.00 a pop for a two-day self destructive DVD, some consumers are saying the cost is too high.
UPDATE 03/13/04 Disney Self-Destructing DVDs Rolling Into Florida - Reported by ABC News/Reuters - Disney and EZ-D, claiming success after several months, are now expanding the throwaway DVD concept to several other markets, including Florida, where the disposable DVDs will be "sold" through 7-Eleven and Papa John's Pizza Outlets. Disney has not yet set a date for a nationwide rollout of EZ-Ds.
UPDATE 10/19/04 Self-Destructing DVDs To Help Market New Film - A small Atlanta-based company is actually promoting the release of an upcoming Christmas film by releasing it on disposable DVD during the beginning of its theatrical run.
UPDATE 02/07/05 Disney Drops Disposable DVDs
UPDATE 05/26/08 Staples Teams With Flexplay, Paramount, Dreamworks, and Warner on Selling Disposable DVDs (link no longer available)