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DVDs for Gas? e-Play Kiosks Make It Possible

17 Jul, 2008 By: Billy Gil

An e-Play kiosk

Cash-strapped consumers facing high gas prices may soon be able to clear out their DVD catalogs for vouchers at Exxon Mobil gas stations.

Dayton, Ohio-based technology company NCR Corp. has entered an exclusive licensing agreement with Columbus, Ohio-based kiosk operators e-Play to add e-Play's “bare-disc” technology to NCR-manufactured kiosks. The technology allows for storage of more than 4,200 discs dispensed in envelopes — and allows consumers to buy, rent or trade in their own DVDs at the kiosks for either store credit or a cash voucher.

“Someone [can] bring us a stack of DVDs from their living room [and trade them in],” said e-Play cofounder and CEO Alan Rudy.

Rudy said e-Play plans to buy many of the NCR kiosks and dispense them either as e-Play branded kiosks or as specific retailers' kiosks, although NCR also has the right to sell its kiosks with e-Play technology to other buyers.

“The e-Play technology is a great complement and addition to the NCR Xpress Entertainment portfolio, which we launched earlier this year,” said NCR chairman and CEO Bill Nuti. “This agreement will further expand our portfolio of self-service entertainment solutions to include bare-disc as well as packaged DVD media, thus enabling NCR to offer our customers the flexibility to deploy the appropriate technology for their business strategy.”

Retailers currently utilizing e-Play kiosks include Exxon Mobil and Dollar Tree, among others, according to Rudy.

“We expect before the end of the year to be able to exchange vouchers for gas at Exxon stations,” Rudy said.

Rudy said customization allows retailers to choose whether DVDs can be traded in for cash vouchers or store credit, and if the store credit would exceed cash amount. He also said current e-Play kiosks are being upgraded remotely to include the new technology.

Rudy said e-Play kiosks were originally made to include DVD burning, but licensing issues have made securing content difficult. Currently, kiosks will only allow for DVD rental, sellthrough and trade-in, with plans for digital distribution down the line.

The new kiosks aim to go after the big kiosk operators, such as Redbox, TNR and DVDPlay, Rudy said. The bare-disc technology allows for much greater storage capacity than Redbox kiosks, which hold about 500 discs apiece.

The new kiosks will use the dollar-a-day rental policy currently employed by such operators as Redbox and TNR. But the trade-in ability, and the ability to purchase any disc in the kiosk at a used-DVD price, will set e-Play kiosks apart, Rudy said.

“You may say ‘gosh, for $4.99, I'm going to buy that,’ Rudy said. “Compared to Redbox … we think we're Redbox plus.”

Discs in the new e-Play kiosks are dispensed in scratch-resistant envelopes Rudy likened to those used by Netflix and Blockbuster Online. When discs are inserted into e-Play machines, the kiosks check for readability so that scratched discs are not bought back, and are not sold or rented to consumers.

“Sometimes [with standard rental] you take the disc home, you're halfway through it and it just stops,” Rudy said. “[If a consumer doesn't complain] the next consumer gets a scratched disc.”

Although there currently are fewer than 100 e-Play kiosks in operation, Rudy said the company plans to dispense “a couple of thousand” new kiosks over a year's time. He said e-Play currently is in talks with several retailers, with special attention to convenience stores.

“We're expanding as fast as we can manufacture,” Rudy said.

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