EZ-D creator readies disposable DVDs

Is Blockbuster history?

A New York-based company has begun touting disposable DVDs that could radically change the way consumers acquire movies for domestic viewing.

If Flexplay has its way, rental and retail DVDs will be offered on a new type of disc the company plans to launch next month. The disc, dubbed EZ-D, is built of special plastics that become opaque when exposed to the air. Sold in air-tight packages, consumers have 48 hours to watch the movie before the DVD becomes a coaster.

The plastic in question is based Lexan, the Economist reports, a polycarbonate that was discovered in 1953 by General Electric. GE partnered with Flexplay in the development of EZ-D. Lexan is widely used in the plastics industry. What GE and Flexplay have done is modify the material slightly. They won't say how, but the effect is a plastic reacts with oxygen and changes colour.

The 48-hour time is arbitrary - just adjust the manufacturing process and you can extend or shorten the period.

But the effect is the same: content companies are able to offer DVDs with a limited lifespan.

Flexplay's focus is the video rental market, which it reckons will love product that doesn't need to be returned to the store. Rental inventories can be managed without having to factor in the need for discs to be returned, which also means they can afford to offer customers much longer rental periods. Staff can spend more time taking customers money than processing returned discs and putting tatty cases back on shelves.

Customers, it argues, will like it to. With EZ-D, you never need pay a late-return fine ever again. Until the customer opens the pack, the disc can be kept and watched whenever preferred. Longer decay periods permit customers more time to give movies multiple viewings.

Rental companies may disagree. EZ-D potentially changes the economics of retail too. If a disc is being sold for a single viewing, say, the movie industry may choose to offer films for a few dollars or pounds to encourage impulse buys. That breaks down the wall between the renter and the retailer, since both companies are now doing the same thing: offering cheap, single-view movies.

Flexplay sees low-cost DVDs being sold through kiosks, newsagents even pizza delivery companies.

The same applies to music. If the music industry wants a low-cost way of allowing punters to try music without having to download it, EZ-D provides a way to do so. More worry is role in 'educating' consumers that they don't need to 'own' music - they just buy it cheap every time they feel like a listen. Collectors and audiophiles might not approve, but we'd reckon the majority of album buyers are less concerned about storing huge collections of CDs.

Flexplay's first trials are firmly in the movie arena, however. It is partnering with Buena Vista to offer EZ-D versions of The Recruit, The Hot Chick, Rabbit Proof Fence, 25th Hour, Heaven, Equilibrium, Frida and Signs in August. ®