DANA POINT, CALIF. — The recording media industry continues to be challenged by how to package digital versatile discs for home entertainment and data storage.
Distinguishing packages for different markets becomes harder in the midst of a convergence of audio, music and data media formats, Pamela Sansbury told the International Recording Media Association's annual conference, held March 18-21 in Dana Point.
``Can you imagine buying a [compact disc] or video without standardized'' packaging, asked Sansbury, a sales, marketing and implementation strategies consultant for emerging and maturing new media. She runs Sansbury & Associates in Lithonia, Ga.
The issues include packaging size and how to educate consumers on care for fragile, bonded DVDs.
Most packagers have adopted the size recommendation of the Video Software Dealers Association of Encino, Calif., for the home market. Basically, that is the width of a jewel box (5.625 inches), the height of a VHS box (7.375 inches) and three-eighths to five-eighths of an inch thick, Sansbury said.
Movie-studio market tests have validated customer acceptance of VSDA's concept, and merchants can use standard retail fixtures. DVD computer software is another story.
The association conducted a test in nine stores for a large computer chain, putting the same graphics on two sizes of packages.
``In almost 100 percent of the cases, the consumer picked the bigger box,'' she said.
In addition to software programs, the DVD read-only memory market for computer data storage is growing rapidly.
Disc care is critical.
``DVD media is much more complicated than the compact disc,'' Sansbury said. ``It's two pieces of [polycarbonate] glued or bonded together to form the same thickness as the compact disc. The pits are seven times closer together, and it has seven times more pits. Therefore, mishandling, scratches, dirt, heat, other contamination or improper storage all affect the playability of the product.''
Unbalanced artwork graphics, imprecise ink curing or a flawed package hub also affect playability of a DVD, she said, and the damage potential is scary.
In packaging, Sansbury said a polypropylene box from Joyce Molding Corp.'s Amaray International Division of Rockaway, N.J., has the ``design that kind of won out this year at retailers and movie studios.''
Amaray cases are made in Rockaway, and in Northampton, England. DuBois Ltd. of Corby, England, has licensed production rights to Amaray.
``[It's] simple, easy to load ... like VHS sleeves [and it] doesn't grab the disc tightly so you don't have hub issues,'' she said.
``Another very strong contender is the [PP] Alpha package,'' which loads like the VHS sleeves and has some improvements over the Amaray box, Sansbury said.
Alpha Enterprises Inc. is in North Canton, Ohio.
Sansbury mentioned other DVD packages from Clear-Vu Products of Westbury, N.Y., Queens Group Inc. of Long Island City, N.Y., and Laserfile International Inc. of Los Angeles.
Clear-Vu's PP slide-out tray locks in a shell, omitting a spindle. Queens uses high-impact polystyrene and paperboard with a two-part hinge. Laserfile's concave PP tray slides out from a PS outer container and hinges down and away from the disc for removal.
In a panel discussion at the conference, Laserfile President Andria McClellan said, ``We've looked at polymer materials other than polystyrene, but they can become very pricey and difficult to mold, [and] cycle times increase as a result.
``What we are looking for the plastics media manufacturers to create is a very inexpensive, crystal polystyrene that doesn't crack,'' McClellan said.
Aside from paper products, PP and PS are still the dominant materials for packaging DVDs, said Philip Clemens, president and chief executive officer of jewel-box maker International Packaging Corp. of Fort Wayne, Ind.
``The marketplace has spoken for multiple versions of DVD packaging,'' said Rick Dixon, senior vice president of entertainment sales with Time-Warner's Warner Media Services unit in Glendale, Calif.
Both Clemens and Dixon noted a growth of just-in-time delivery requirements. But competition from offshore molders continues to be a challenge.
``Right now, in video markets, we have been able to remain competitive because of size of video packages,'' said Ron Burdett, Alpha's vice president of packaging products.
Customization or additional designs require domestic production sites, according to McClellan and Clemens.
Customers still want U.S.-made products, said Philip Sykes, general manager of UFE Inc.'s Pride interactive media accessories division in Stillwater, Minn. ``But the jewel-box business is extremely brutal,'' he added.
The PS jewel box, used widely for CDs, retains potential in the DVD rental market.
``Customers want low-cost, flexible and functional packaging,'' said Peter Ciriello, president and chief executive officer of Shape Inc. of Fitchburg, Mass., a supplier to electronic media, data storage and computer industries.
About 310,000 U.S. households acquired a DVD video player in 1997. Manufacturers shipped 425,000 units to dealers. Consumers bought about 3 million video discs out of 14 million shipped to dealers last year.
The complexity of production issues, technical issues, packaging, merchandising and communications messages ``are all going to affect the success of DVD in the marketplace,'' Sansbury said.