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Hate late fees? Throw DVD away

AUSTIN, Texas — Movie lovers who hate paying late fees now have a new option, as disposable DVDs have debuted in central Texas.

Austin is a test market for the DVDs, which self-destruct 48 hours after their protective packaging is opened.

The so-called ez-Ds feature a special red coating on the bottom which turns black as it slowly oxidizes, making the disc unreadable after two days.

Austin was chosen because residents rent and buy a higher-than average number of DVDs, said Lori MacPherson, a vice president of marketing for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, a division of the Walt Disney Co., which is testing the new discs.

Self-destructing DVDs are just the latest example of the changes shaking up the movie rental business. There's more competition from cable video-on-demand services and digital downloading. There's consumer backlash over late fees, which accounted for just over 12 percent of the $4.79 billion consumers spent to rent movies in the first six month of the year, according to Video Store Magazine.

The ez-Ds are designed to appeal to customers who don't like making trips to the video store and hate the hassle of late fees.

"It's a way to appeal to people who aren't renting or stopped renting because of the perceived inconvenience," MacPherson said.

Other test cities are Charleston, S.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Peoria, Ill. More cities will likely be added after the initial six-month test is complete, MacPherson said.

The discs will be available through a variety of local outlets and will retail for $6.99.

Eight films will initially be released, including "Frida," "The Hot Chick," "Signs," "The Recruit" and "25th Hour." Concerned that disposable DVDs could siphon revenue from rentals, Disney plans to release films in disposable DVD format only after they've already been released on normal DVDs for six weeks. The disposable discs will contain only the movie and not extras such as deleted scenes.

Hollywood will be watching how well the no-return DVDs do in Austin, because other studios are contemplating putting their movies out on disposable DVDs.

But the disposable DVDs have already created concern among environmentalists.

"This is a product design choice that's going in the wrong direction. They're taking a durable product and making it disposable," said David Wood, co-director of the Grass Roots Recycling Network, a Wisconsin based environmental activist group. "We think that it sends the wrong idea to consumers."

Wood's group has begun e-mail and phone campaigns to convince Disney to abandon the plan. They are unimpressed by Disney's DVD recycling plan, which requires consumers to bundle up used DVDs and mail them to a recycler.

"Why is a consumer who doesn't like to go back to the video store going to go to the post office to mail something that is just easier to throw away?" Wood said.

Disney officials said they've tried to make the disposable DVDs as environmentally friendly as possible. Each will include the address of a Web site where pre-paid mailing labels can be printed out for returning the discs.

Disney has signed agreements with Discount Electronics and the City of Austin Material Recovery Facility as collection points for the DVDs.