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Return of the Self-Destructing DVD?

Edited by chromatic
September 2003

A few years after the ill-fated DivX player failed, media companies are again flirting with the idea of limited-use DVDs. This time, the pitch includes environmental concerns and convenience. Will it fly? The Editors List is still dubious.

Robert Eckstein:

Okay, while looking in my grocery store this morning for an emergency stash of post-workout Gatorade, I stumbled across the latest Hollywood "innovation," this time from Disney:

Self-destructing DVDs, euphemistically called EZ-Ds.

And five minutes after looking at these, I realized that I'd been banging my head against the kiosk for . . . about five minutes.

Unlike the ill-fated DivX players that were marketed by Circuit City a few years ago, these discs don't require any sort of Big Brother database to keep watch on what you're watching and when you watch it.

Instead, after you break the vacuum-packed seal, you have 48 hours to wait . . . then view the DVD before the compound coating reacts with oxygen, turns the bottom opaque, and prevents the 625nm laser beam inside your DVD player from penetrating the spiraling pits of data that form your MPEG2 movies.

So, then you throw it away, right? WRONG! Disney wants you to recycle it by sending it back, which you get to pay for in postage.

The price for this convenience is $6.99 plus tax. The DVD comes with some unintentionally funny statements on it as well, like "Freshness guaranteed for 48 hours." Geeze, how tacky. Why don't they just put a Budweiser born-on date on the package? Or "Protect Our Environment." Huh? Why create so much more potential trash?

Not to break into Torkington-isms here :-), but "WHAT THE F#@%?" I frequently wonder what Disney marketeers are thinking.

  1. The same movie that I saw in my grocery store is available for 2-day rental for $3.99 at Blockbuster across the street. Granted, it's not a first-run movie. First-run movies are available for $3.49 per night.

  2. If I have to abort on a first-run movie for some reason (West Nile Virus, author with embolism, relatives drop by, etc.), I can cut my losses by returning the movie after one night and only paying $3.49, instead of $7.00.

  3. I have enough DVDs that randomly self-destruct due to scratches, laser rotting, cheap quality substrate material between the layers, etc. I can usually get them replaced within 30 days if need be.

  4. Many first-run DVDs are available for purchase at introductory discounts. For example, I picked up The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers at a local consumer store for $13.99, and I can watch it forever and ever and ever.

Maybe if the cost of these comes down to $3.99, I'll be interested. But someone over there in Burbank is smoking some serious fairy dust if they think I'll be paying $7.00 for a DVD that blows up 48 hours later when there are so many other better alternatives.

So, I'm curious: Has anyone picked up one of these yet? Is this a nationwide rollout?

Tim O'Reilly:

Well, I heard a good one on my digital rights management panel at Seybold yesterday from a Warner Bros. lawyer. He conceded that when VCRs came out, the folks at Disney asked, "But how will we make sure that only one person watches the movie at a time?" Talk about clueless and in a rut. They were really stuck on preserving the per-customer revenue that they get in movie theaters.

David Brickner:

I don't disagree with the point about high pricing from Disney.

However, I thought the point of this technology was for use by video rental places and mail order video companies like Netflix. No returns needed, no late fees paid, and the video store will never be out of a copy of the latest hits because it will have fresh shipments mailed on a regular basis.

Robert Eckstein:

Hmmm . . . well, I guess the question then becomes, how many of the self-destructing DVDs can you manufacture/purchase before you exceed the manufacturing cost of a regular DVD? I can't imagine that EZ-Ds would cost Flexplay much less than a regular DVD to manufacture, because they include everything a regular DVD-9 (dual-layer, single-sided DVD) does, and a chemical layer that reacts with oxygen.

A regular DVD can be reused many times over, so the attraction for Netflix comes in the money saved from shipping the DVD back. However, if they're pushing you to recycle it, does that mean that Netflix will still want you to send it back? Or to a third-party recycling company? If so, do they pay for that or do you?

Simon Chappell:

The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. just ran an article called How do disposable DVDs work? It mentions plans for an incentive scheme to encourage people not to throw the discs away, I guess like returning glass bottles to a store for a refund. No plans to actually sell them in the U.K. though.

Sarah Milstein:

The New York Times recently ran a story about these. Here's an excerpt:

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."

Robert Eckstein:

As much as I hate to say it, I agree with Michael Eisner. I see little attraction to this, and the last thing I want to do if I go on vacation to Yellowstone is watch a movie I could just as easily watch at home. It probably won't work.

Rael Dornfest

On the one hand, kids do tend to want to see the same Disney movie over and over again as many times as they can in 48 hours.

On the other, have you ever tried to get through a movie with kids (whether they're watching it or not) in a 48 hour period?


Robert Eckstein:

As a quick followup, I did notice that EZ-Ds are no longer for sale in my local grocery store. They seem to have disappeared after only a week. Walgreens has them now.

I did see a TV commercial for EZ-Ds last night. It had one of those completely unjustifiable, four-second lead-in lines similar to what you would expect from car and truck dealers, like: "By 2020, man will be on Mars, and Mars has some rough terrain. That's why you need a Ford F-150 Supercab with optional towing capacity. . . ."

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