EZ-D Test Rolls Out5 Sep, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner
But will it play in Peoria?
Consumers there and in three other American markets will get a taste of a new DVD Tuesday, but just a taste — because the eight titles on vacuum-sealed EZ-D disposable DVDs entering the marketplace in a test will become unplayable 48 hours each disc is unsealed.
Questions abound about the product. Will consumers embrace discs with no bonus features that expire in two days? Will they pay the suggested retail price of $6.99? Will they recycle the discs, as Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Flexplay, the companies testing the product, hope?
Packaging for the titles in the test — The Recruit, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Frida, The Hot Chick, 25th Hour, Heaven, Equilibrium and Signs — is labeled in several places, including a bright yellow seal, to alert consumers that the disc will degrade after 48 hours.
Although the companies behind the test have tried to keep the test markets quiet, newspapers in the markets were disclosing the tests last week. The discs will appear in Austin, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; Charleston, S.C.; and Peoria/Bloomington, Ill., according to the Austin American-Statesman. A Buena Vista spokesperson told the Statesman the Peoria/Bloomington market was chosen because of its high percentage of renters.
Industry skeptics have been vocal about the test since it was announced last May.
“It just seems to be a gimmick that Disney has come out with to make money. It doesn't seem to be supported by any other studios. With the price of DVDs as low as they are, I just don't see the point,” said Ron Epstein, moderator of the Home Theater Forum.
But by his own admission, Epstein is a DVD collector — not the consumer Buena Vista is targeting. Buena Vista president Bob Chapek has said he hopes to reclaim former renters who stopped renting because of late fees and return trips. Most of the stores set to test the product are in the food, drug and convenience space, including H-E-B and Cub Foods markets, CVS and Walgreen's drug stores and 7-Eleven and Kwik-Shop convenience stores.
“Consumers today want convenience more than ever. It's a question of how each individual customer in each individual market responds,” said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. “Ultimately, our industry is about selling time, literally. If this addresses the definition of convenience for many consumers, it could be viable. It's not enough to serve what the customer wants. You have to identify what the customer doesn't know they want and offer that.”
But some entertainment specialty stores — including FYE, Hastings and Movie Gallery — will also offer the product in the four- to six-month test.
“We're thrilled to be launching this product with the folks at Buena Vista Home Entertainment. We look forward to consumers and content providers enjoying the ease and convenience of the EZ-D,” said Flexplay CEO Alan Blaustein.
Since announcing plans to test the format, Buena Vista has worked to overcome some of the initial criticism. In all four test markets, the supplier has worked with local recycling organizations to build on what was the sole recycling option, a company called GreenDisk in Columbia, Mo. Although the local recyclers must still send the discs to GreenDisk because the chemical composition of optical media requires special recycling, Buena Vista worked to ensure consumers would have multiple and local options, a spokesman said. The recyclers who accept EZ-D will also accept other optical storage discs like Internet shareware and CDs.
Consumers will have three options: send their discs to GreenDisk, visit the Web site EZ/D.com to get a postage-paid return envelope, or take the discs to the local centers that accept them along with other recyclables.
“The fourth phase is an incentive program,” the spokesperson said. “We are offering people an incentive program to log onto EZ/D.com and register. They are encouraged to take six EZ-D purchases, mail them to us, [and] we will then mail them back a seventh EZ-D for free.”
Nonetheless, not everyone is thrilled. The Wisconsin-based Grassroots Recycling Network is ready to mobilize activists with an editable form letter to Disney CEO Michael Eisner posted on its Web site.
Analysts, too, are skeptical about the possibilities for the product.
“I don't consider the self-destructing discs to be a significant market share. They will vanish without a trace,” said Josh Bernoff, principal analyst with Forrester Research.
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