Flexplay: Redbox's Dumber, Wasteful, Forgotten Cousin
In the first decade of the 21st century, traditional video rental stores were going out of style. Streaming wasn’t available yet, at least like it is today, but the technology of the time made the process of going to Blockbuster, paying a standard rental fee, and sometimes getting a late fee obsolete. During this time, video store alternatives emerged. There was the OG Netflix, which mailed DVDs directly to your home. Then there was Redbox, which placed convenient video rental kiosks in front of stores and other places that you would likely be going anyway. And then, at the bottom of the video store alternative barrel, there was Flexplay.
Video stores and most alternatives required you to return the DVD. With Netflix, you had to go through all the trouble of putting a DVD in an envelope and out for mail, and with Redbox, you had to go back to a kiosk and return your DVD, and it was all just too much work (sarcasm hopefully received). What if I just want to throw the DVD out when I’m done?
Thanks to the good people at Flexplay, this was possible! Flexplay produced a line of disposable DVDs that they dubbed the “eZ-D.” These eZ-Ds looked like regular DVDs and could play in any standard DVD player, but they contained one major visual difference.
The readable side of the DVD was a red color, at least when you first took it out of its packaging. Flexplay discs contained a glue that would react when exposed to oxygen. This turned the disc from red to black, and once it fully turned, the lasers in DVD players could no longer read the eZ-D. When you purchased a Flexplay disc, you could watch it as many times as you wanted until the disc became unreadable 48 hours after being opened.
Flexplay first hit shelves in a limited run in 2003. This was a disaster. Flexplay required no additional setup like Redbox and no dedicated store like a standard video rental. Instead, eZ-Ds were sold in stores like Staples. They were initially sold for $6.99, more than most movie rentals at the time. It took less than a year for most stores to give up on selling them.
Unlike the discs that they sold, Flexplay would not die, though. In 2008, after years off the market, Flexplay made a return to store shelves. This time, they were a bit cheaper at $4.99, but the technology remained the same. Maybe the changes in the DVD rental market led them to think disposable discs had more life in them, but it should come as no surprise that this was not the case. Flexplay did not gain traction, and the product was discontinued in 2011. Was anyone buying an eZ-D in 2010?
No one wanted Flexplay. One major opposition to Flexplay came from environmental groups who protested the product due to the amount of waste it caused. If you buy or rent a DVD, that disc is going to be around a while. Each Flexplay disc was designed to go in the trash within days of use.
Don’t worry, though, because Flexplay had a plan for this. Yes, you could recycle your eZ-Ds either by mailing them away or taking them to a specific recycling bin. The product that existed entirely to not be returned to stores had an option to be returned to stores. Truly a great invention.
Today, Flexplay exists as a memory of a blunder in tech history. If anyone did buy an eZ-D, they probably just threw it out once it self-destructed. Even if you found an unopened Flexplay DVD today, it wouldn’t do much. Unopened eZ-Ds were meant to last about a year, and stores that sold them probably held on to them for about that long.
Top Image: HappyEnd/Pixabay