Coming This Summer: Self-Destructing DVDs

Hackers will need more than computer skills to work around the self-destructing DVDs soon to be released by Walt Disney Company's Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

They'll need to bone up on chemistry. In a new twist on the old theme of writing secret documents in disappearing ink, Disney plans to issue some new DVDs with a chemical coating that turns dark in 48 hours, rendering them unplayable. The concept would allow retailers to take advantage of consumers' impulse buying of movies without the burden of establishing a return and restocking system.

It's also a simplified update of the discredited DivX plan that made rented discs unusable by controlling their use via identification codes. In that scheme, once a disc was inserted in a DivX player, a countdown to termination would begin at a central server. In the Disney plan, the countdown begins as soon as the disc is removed from its wrapper, with oxidation doing the dirty work. Be sure you really want to watch that disc before you open it! The discs will work normally for the first two days before the lights go out, according to advance publicity.

Although Disney is calling the self-terminating discs "rentals with no return," the company hopes that the plan will induce movie fans to buy the discs, play them for a couple of days, and then discard them. No returns, no late fees. The idea could be attractive for folks who want to sample movies without paying full price. It's also likely to raise the ire of environmentalists who already complain about the glut of discarded promotional CD-ROMs from companies like AOL.

Self-destructing discs were developed by privately held Flexplay Technologies, Inc. Flexplay technology was previously used in promotional DVDs for a recent James Bond movie. A disc with scenes from Die Another Day came with an accurate warning that it would expire within 36 hours. Self-destructing Disney titles due in August include The Hot Chick, The Recruit, and Signs. Pricing has not been announced.