The Return of a Very Stupid Idea

Hey, look! A green title! Green means good!A few years ago, someone came up with a design for a “self-destructing” DVD.

The process took a standard DVD and coated it with a chemical layer that would begin to oxidize on exposure to air. You opened the sealed package, the layer began to deteriorate, and after 48 hours, the disc would be completely unreadable, leaving you with a coaster.

They called it Flexplay. You probably never heard of it, because it barely made it to market. MGM included a Flexplay disc of promotional clips in the presskit for “Die Another Day”, which was clever in a Bond-universe sort of way, but that was the only one I ever got my hands on.

But now, Flexplay has reared its dopey head again: EngadgetHD is reporting that Staples, of all places, will be carrying Flexplay discs in its stores.

The supposed appeal of the Flexplay model is that you don’t have to return the disc when the “rental” period runs out; you just toss it in the garbage, or return it to the company by mail for recycling. Like the similarly restrictive DIVX format promoted (and abandoned) by Circuit City a decade ago, this is designed to appeal to people who don’t like making two trips to the rental shop when they rent a DVD — because no one ever returns a DVD and picks up another one on the same visit.

It’s not the presumption that the consumer is a drooling idiot what don’t like all them choices they offer down to the Blockbuster that bugs me; it’s the sheer waste involved in the Flexplay model, just as consumers seem to be on the verge of accepting the need for sustainable and/or recyclable goods.

Flexplay discs are like plastic bags. It appears they can’t be easily recycled at the consumer level, and the effort involved to send them back to the company for processing means most people will just throw them away instead. (I’m using Flexplay’s own contemptuous view of the target demographic here, of course.)

And in an age of ultra-cheap DVDs, where previously-viewed releases of three weeks’ past are available in bargain bins for ten bucks, will anyone really want to snap up a time-limited copy of a newish release? And that’s assuming Flexplay discs are available day-and-date with the standard DVD versions; the Flexplay edition of “Cloverfield” only reached the market yesterday, a full seven weeks behind the April 22nd launch of the unoxidizing edition.

The Flexplay gimmick only really works if you’re selling something exclusive, like a movie no one else will distribute; if you’re trying to sell the same titles that can be picked up elsewhere without restrictions, the viability of the Flexplay versions starts decreasing from the moment of shipping.

Gee, it seems like there’d be an allegory in there somewhere, but I’m not sure I can find it …

4 thoughts on “The Return of a Very Stupid Idea”

  1. I just saw a rack of these discs at a service station on my way back from Boston last weekend. The only use I could think of is if you were on a long road trip with the family and you wanted something cheap to throw on for the kids without having to return them.

    It seems fitting that a big, gas-guzzling, SUV driving consumer would also want some DVDs that quickly turn to garbage. Next stop: the Apocalypse!

  2. I have a horrible feeling that this interation will catch on for porn. Think about it – hotels. Ditch the in-room movies, they look bad on expense accounts. For $5.99 you’ll be able to buy an untraceable copy of Nurse Nancy and watch it on your laptop on the plane going home. Discreetly, one would hope.

  3. It always comes back to the porn doesn’t it? If you’re looking for investors in the disposable MILF DVD market… well count me in. As someone who travels regularly on a business credit card, it sure would be handy to slap down a five spot and be done with it rather than deal with the awkward smurk from the twenty-two year old concierge when I’m checking out. No wait, why not put them in vending machines by the ice maker on every floor. Dude, we could so get rich.

  4. Businessmen, porn, guilt, self erasing DVDs…sounds like a J-Horror flick to me. Get me Takashi Miike on the line!

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