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Friday, September 12, 2003
Self-destructing DVDs avoid late fees

The latest in DVD technology is the disposable EZ-D, a DVD that turns black 48 hours after it's opened, making it unreadable by DVD players. Set to sell for $5 to $7, it's cheaper than late fees.

Developed by California-based Flexplay Technologies, the EZ-D enters four test markets Tuesday, among them Austin, Texas. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, a branch of Disney, is testing the technology with eight titles, including "The Recruit," "Frida," "Signs" and "25th Hour."

The EZ-D does not include extra features, such as alternate endings, found on most DVDs. But those could be added later. Buena Vista is releasing titles at 24-hour convenience stores, grocery stores and other nontraditional venues, but only after they have been available at video stores for six weeks.

The EZ-D enters the rental market as consumer hostility toward late fees grows.

Of course, other fee-free options exist: online rental subscriptions and ordering from a cable company; even Blockbuster is offering some no-late-fee alternatives.

Netflix, which opened in 1998 and now has more than 1 million subscribers and 15,000 titles, responded to the fee backlash by letting customers keep movies as long as they want, for a monthly subscription fee.

Netflix spokeswoman Lynn Brinton said consumer frustration with late fees is driving three trends: online subscriptions, DVD sales and the development of new technology.

But so far, the consumer and industry buzz is not behind the EZ-D, Brinton said. And it is possible that it never will be, said Victor McCrary, executive director of the Maryland-based DVD Association. The organization promotes new DVD technology and claims nearly 7,000 members.

The lack of special features, recycling issues and the cost of creating the EZ-D all work against it, McCrary said. Plus, consumers tend to dislike music and videos in a disposable format, he said.

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