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This DVD will self-destruct

Walt Disney will introduce self-destructing DVDs for ‘rent’ this August in a pilot project to crack a wider rental market. The discs, dubbed EZ-D, become unplayable after two days and do not have to be returned. They stop working after a change in colour renders them unreadable, starting off red, but when taken out of the package and exposed to oxygen, the coating turns black and makes it impenetrable by a DVD laser.

The technology is impervious to hackers as the mechanism which closes the viewing window is chemical and has nothing to do with computer technology. However, the disc can be copied within 48 hours, since it works like any other DVD during that window.

The only purpose behind this wasteful production of DVDs I can see (think of all the waste from the useless discs!) is Walt Disney having a go at the rental market in an attempt to recoup the return on films released on DVDs. Presumably licenses or other means used to control the rental market are not good enough for them.

For the customer the benefit is marginal, I no longer have to remember to ‘return’ the disc, whose only use thereafter will be as a tacky coffee mug mat. In fact, there will cease to be rental market as such, as there will only be two kinds of DVDs I can purchase. The expensive ones that last and the cheap ones that will play only for 48 hours. It is not clear whether they will be distributed by a similar network of ‘rental’ shops. It certainly makes economic sense to do so, since one of the benefits of renting a DVD or a video is the convenience of being able to do so close to one’s home and at any hour of the day.

I do not have sufficient detail to take a firm position on this one. My gut reaction is that any attempt to control markets by restricting either supply or demand eventually blows up in the face of companies whose delusions of market power got better of their business sense.

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17 comments to This DVD will self-destruct

  • Jacob

    This seems just a normal introduction of a new product. It may catch on or it may fail. Depends on price, competition and consumer preferences.

    Nothing to do with “companies whose delusions of market power got better of their business sense.”

  • Well Jacob, if the product fails, then that is indeed what the product was: a delusions of market power which got better of their business sense. We will see.

  • Nancy Reyes

    Parents buy the Disney G rated DVD’s to play over and over again for their kids.
    The only rentals will be the “miramax” R rated ones.
    Personally, I am so busy I rarely rent DVD but get them from “pay per view” and tape them to watch when I have time: not to “steal” them but to turn them on and off etc while doing housework etc. So why would I “rent” such a disk?
    I am always bemused at these “anti theft” type devices that frustrate normal people while not really stopping true theft.
    In the Philippines, we had hackers taping, selling, and even broadcasting new films on local TV… and there is mass copyright infringement in China.
    But instead of hitting these we see this type of nonsense.

  • S. Weasel

    As the article itself points out, the disc may self-destruct but, while it works, it can be duplicated or ripped to hard drive like any other. In other words, the movie on the DVD isn’t anything like ‘impervious to hackers’. I can’t see how this will stop anything but the most casual DVD duplicator (of which there aren’t many yet, until the writable drive prices come down a little).

    This doesn’t feel like a winner. On the other hand, I can’t get too worked up about it, either.

  • The benefits might be more to the retailer than to the customer-renter.

    A great part of the difficulties involved in retail rental arises from tracking your stock. Obviously, that which has been sold and isn’t expected to return need not be tracked. So, while the rental customer gets the advantage of not having to return the DVD, the retailer gets the larger advantage of being able to forget all about it: not make provisions for knowing who has it, knowing when it’s supposed to be returned, knowing what condition it’s in, et cetera.

    That might bring down the cost of DVD rentals, which would be very nice.

  • roy

    “My gut reaction is that any attempt to control markets by restricting either supply or demand eventually blows up in the face of companies whose delusions of market power got better of their business sense.”

    You mean like DeBeers?

  • Brian Micklethwait

    I think this is interesting. As Francis says, it could bring down the cost of DVD rental, and I think it may have another virtue, which is that having bought it, you may be able to decide when you’ll watch it.

    A problem I often have with renting DVDs (and before that videos) is that I rent one, and then events pile up without warning and I don’t have time to watch them during the one or two day window. If I understand this system correctly, it might be that I could “buy” my DVD, but then open it at my leisure, and have it available for watching for a 2 day period of my choosing, whenever it suits.

    Of course, if the retailer takes it out of the “package” when I buy it this wouldn’t work.

    So my question is, do I get to open the “viewing window” when I want to open it? If so, it sounds useful to me.

    It doesn’t solve all problems, but it might solve some, especially if it gets to be so cheap that it seriously bites into the illegal copying syndrome.

    That thougth aside, it doesn’t firectly solve the illegal copying problem, which is due to explode soon, when DVD copiers become as cheap and widespread as CD copiers already are.

    CD copiers are doing awful things to music profits, unless I’m seriously mistaken. I don’t copy music CDs. Of course not. Perish the thought. It would never enter my mind to do such a thing. But I know people who know people who do.

  • Not having to return the thing is a big win, especially for disorganized people who tend to get socked by late return fees.

    Been there, done that, stopped renting because of it.

  • Eric the .5b

    I can actually see one benefit to the consumer, after having largely given up on renting DVDs in disgust: I’d never have to worry about a disposable DVD looking like the last renter went over it with a brillo pad.

  • A friend has just suggested a way in which this idea could “gang agley”: the eco-fascists could attack it by asserting that it would create new mountains of digital garbage — referring to the expired media, not the program content.

  • Dave

    I already know at least 2 people that rent DVDs, burn copies, and return them, and get the next one.

    I foresee increasing sales of DVD-burners….

  • Dave F

    When DVD first appeared, Circuit City and its corporate lawyers get together and worked out exactly the same scheme: Disney is just reviving it. It failed the last time and will fail this time for a very fundamental market reason:

    Video rental stores are DEPENDENT on customers returning to their premises on a regular basis, and attempts to encourage them to stay away are going to be met with unyielding resistance

  • Dave F

    When DVD first appeared, Circuit City and its corporate lawyers get together and worked out exactly the same scheme: Disney is just reviving it. It failed the last time and will fail this time for a very fundamental market reason:

    Video rental stores are DEPENDENT on customers returning to their premises on a regular basis, and attempts to encourage them to stay away are going to be met with unyielding resistance

  • S. Weasel

    Also a presumably small but possibly significant source of income for video rental stores is reselling used DVDs.

    They have to buy a gazillion copies of any popular movie and, after the initial rush, most of them will never be used again. So they sell them. My local Hollywood Video offers 3 for $30, and they guarantee their condition. I’ve picked up a number of mainstream titles that way.

    I wonder what film distributors think of this practice?

  • cydonia

    The great David Friedman wrote a wonderful piece a few years ago in his book “Hidden Order – The Economics of Everyday life” about books with ink designed to fade after one year – the idea being to kill off the second hand market and force more sales of new books.

    The counter-intuitive result is that the publisher is worse off, not better. I suspect the same will be true here. It’s hard to believe that a manufacturer who deliberately worsens a product will derive any benefit in a free market.

    Cydonia

  • its jake

    This is the same as a 48-hour theater pass to one show. It increases efficiency in the rental market by reducing the price to consumers in having to make the return trip to the store and eliminates lost/late fees.

    What a great idea. So much better than the original Div-X DVD concept where the DVD phoned home for approval.