Self-Destructing DVDs Hit Holiday Market

Gretchen Gallen
LOS ANGELES – Just as the DVD formatting wars are about to begin over market share between Sony's Blu-ray and Toshiba's HD-DVD, the self-destructing DVD has finally emerged to shake up the video rental industry.

After failing to grab consumer attention several years ago, destructible DVDs are back in full force with an endorsement from a straight-to-video family Christmas movie.

Disposable DVDs are red on the surface and contain a chemical substance that causes them to become unreadable after a set amount of hours. Makers of the DVDs can make them last for as briefly as an hour, or as long as 48 hours.

Called the disposable EZ-D, the patented disc format is owned by Atlanta-based Convex Group and its newly acquired subsidiary Flexplay Technologies Inc. In order to succeed, Flexplay must gain acceptance from major movie studios willing to use EZ-D instead of other distribution formats.

The Convex Group, a media and entertainment holding company that includes LidRock and HowStuffWorks, announced its acquisition of Flexplay in October, for the sole purpose of capitalizing on what it hopes will become a booming market.

The company is betting that EZ-D will be a mass-market success as an alternative to traditional movie rental models, eliminating returns, not causing late fees, and providing perfect-quality playback on any standard DVD player, scratch-free.

Flexplay is also targeting music CDs and computer software discs that slowly become unplayable over time.

While recognizing that the disposable DVD could revolutionize the movie rental industry, critics of the disposable DVD say that consumers have so far been reluctant to rent movies that self-expire. The EZ-D also does little to hinder piracy and can be just as easily copied onto traditional DVDs.

Convex Group plans to use the Christmas movie "Noel" as a vehicle to once again showcase the concept behind the EZ-D and its usefulness in providing consumers with an alternative to video rental stores and mail-order services.

The movie will be made available in EZ-D format this month on Amazon.com and comes on the heels of similar marketing efforts by Walt Disney, which conducted a year-long test phase using EZ-D discs for the release of "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" and "Bridget Jones's Diary."

Walt Disney's home video unit, Buena Vista Entertainment, is said to be on the verge of launching a rental program based around EZ-D discs.

However, Flexplay and its supporters continue to struggle with a negative reception from consumers, particularly when it comes to disposing of the EZ-D, which is a non-recyclable product.

A survey taken in 2003 queried more than 4,000 consumers, asking them if they would consider renting a self-destructive DVD.

According to the company that administered the survey, 321 Studios, 76 percent expressed negative feelings about the idea.

"This move to create self-destructing DVDs by Buena Vista Entertainment implies that consumers are dishonest in their use of technology, and consumers are not pleased with this implication," Robert Moore, president of 321, expressed at the time the survey was taken. "Customers should not be criminalized when they go to rent a movie."