Wrap It Up! – careful packaging of digital video disks

Wrap It Up! – careful packaging of digital video disks – Statistical Data Included

Lee Hollman

THE STATE OF DVD PACKAGING

NOW THAT THE GIFT OF DVD WILL SOON BE AVAILABLE, HOW SHOULD IT BE WRAPPED?

Despite numerous raise starts and initial disappointments, and much mind-numbing hype and hyperbole, DVDs have finally won both retail shelf space and the attention of electronic media consumers. Many of these consumers will have gotten used to writing “00” on their checks by the time the new medium truly gains a foothold in the home and corporate marketplace. Yet they will greet it with open wallets, captivated by the promise of increased storage capacity and heightened audio and video features. Only one question remains for the manufacturers and content providers who await profit from the inevitable DVD boom: Now that the gift of DVD will soon be readily available, how should it be wrapped?

The question may seem trivial at first, but replicators and packagers are faced with important technical and marketing considerations. Their biggest challenge is the relative sensitivity of DVDs. Compared to their CD ancestors, the new discs are more easily scratched and more difficult to assemble, making them more error-prone once they’ve been manufactured. Since DVDs consist of two layers of plastic that are half as thick as a standard CD-ROM, great care must be taken to make sure that they’re bonded together properly. If the two halves are even one micron away from perfect alignment with each other, serious errors are likely. Assuming that the disc is successfully assembled, it can still be damaged in many ways. The pits on the surface of the disc are more closely spaced than on a CD, which allows it to store more information, but also makes it vulnerable to scratches. DVDs are also double-sided, which means that they must be handled with further caution. Even fingerprints can cause significant problems to the disc’s fidelity, which presents a challenge to replicators and packagers.

Replicators will need to seek durable containment for DVDs, to protect them from the day they’re first created until they’re held in the consumers’ hands. They must also try to offer their clients a variety of options and to accommodate their individual requests and needs. Each replicator shall attempt to remain as flexible as possible when reviewing potential packaging options, while still bearing in mind the physical limitations of the DVD.

At the same time, packagers are also under pressure from marketing departments to create product that is both distinct from previous media, yet also similar. A DVD-Video box must look enough like a VHS box to appeal to home video consumers, but it must also be recognized as a different medium at first glance.

Likewise, DVD-ROM releases will be shelved next to CD-ROM titles, but they must also stand out in their own right. Packagers are helping to introduce DVDs to the already-crowded electronic media marketplace, but also need to please replicators by inventing functional designs that provide sufficient protection for the discs themselves.

ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: THE EVOLUTION OF DVD AND DVD PACKAGING

It’s not surprising that DVDs are just now becoming a concern for most packagers. Though the DVD boom meant to rattle the digital publishing world was predicted as early as 1993, it was delayed due to technical setbacks.

That was the year when Nimbus premiered a Red Book disc recorded with MPEG-1 audio at double density, a souped-up CD that would begin the evolution of disc media toward DVD-ROM. As other companies tested other prototypes with mixed results, packagers had more time to court the growing CD-ROM market. They relied mostly on the jewel case, a relatively inexpensive option to manufacture and one that is still popular with replicators. Replicators, in turn, continued to increase their CD output each year.

By 1995, Philips and Sony had announced MMCD, a high-density disc that was to be the next step on the DVD evolutionary ladder. Time Warner and Toshiba countered with SD, a double-sided disc intended for home video. Both sides joined forces nearly a year later, and produced the basic specs for yet another new kind of disc. This was at last DVD as consumers now know it, the Alpha disc that survived the corporate equivalent of natural selection. As DVD players debuted at retail outlets in March 1997, packagers knew they would have to prepare themselves for the gradual rise of this next-wave media and expect increased output from replicators.

Yet DVD packaging began its own evolutionary process as early as 1995, when the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) assembled its DVD Packaging Task Force. The Task Force consisted largely of home video retailers, who realized that DVD-Video would soon emerge as a consumer-ready format and voiced its concerns about how it should be boxed as compared to the VHS tape standard.

Pam Sansbury, founder of new media consulting firm Sansbury & Associates, recalls the VSDA’s first meeting. “What they were looking for was a differential at a retail level, so that the consumer could look at the product and know that it’s DVD, not CD. The best way to do that is with a size differential, so they came out with a specific size recommendation for a product that was the width of a jewel box and the height of a VCR box.”

The measurements of the proposed DVD-Video box were specifically chosen so that a DVD title could fit in the same shelf space as a videotape, but also wouldn’t be confused for one. The Task Force settled on 7 3/8″ (H) x 5 5/58″ (W) dimensions for the box, and worked with replicators in planning an interior for it that would secure the disc as necessary to prevent surface damage. Sansbury is quick to point out that a DVD is vulnerable in three distinct ways, which influenced the final design of the VSDA-approved box.

“One problem with packaging a DVD is to be careful of pressure on the outside of the disc,” Sansbury explains. “If the two halves of the disc aren’t adhered together properly, any physical pressure from the outside could cause them to shift. The same thing is true of pressure on the inside hub. If it’s too great, that could also cause the disc to become off-center,” she continues. “The third concern is the physical scratching that can take place around the inside diameter of the disc. That’s why CD-ROM is a much more forgiving format to work with.”

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTED

With the standard stabilized and the titles ready to roll out, enter the Snapper. Warner Media Services first created the Snapper in 1995, just in time for the VSDA’s convention on DVD packaging. Martin Folkman of The Kita Group, Warner’s public relations firm, recalls the encouraging response that the new box first received. “The Snapper package was first presented by Warner at that VSDA conference, and the specs that the VSDA finally decided on came from the Snapper,” Folkman says. “Though they couldn’t actually endorse it per se, they did endorse its dimensions when deciding upon a DVD-Video standard.” The Snapper, the first packaging model to feature the VHS box-height, jewel case-deep measurements later adopted by the VSDA, won the association’s approval for several other reasons as well before its official release in 1997.

The first of these reasons is the Snapper’s economy of design. It is created out of a wraparound cardboard stock which is held in place by a styrene plastic frame. The user can access the disc inside by opening a hinge on the right side of the box that snaps shut, hence the inspiration for the box’s name. Since only a minimum of plastic is used and the cardboard is easily produced, the Snapper has become the most cost-effective packaging design available for DVD-Video.

Another advantage of the Snapper is its relative ease of manufacturing. Craig Braun, corporate creative director at Warner, admits that the technology used to make the Snapper box is the same that the company has used for CDs, so manufacturers won’t need to purchase any new machinery. “We already had the equipment to pop in the disc, wrap the cover around, and snap it shut,” explains Braun. “Altering the equipment was no big deal. We only had to change the size of the conveyer belt, and make minor adjustments.”

The final selling point of the Snapper is its versatility. The cardboard covers can be removed and replaced at will, which has helped Warner to ensure its success in the international video marketplace. “You can ship the Snapper trays anywhere in the world, and you can put different language covers on it. The trays can be made and shipped anywhere,” says Folkman.

Braun concurs, adding that Warner currently has licensees in Italy, England, Japan, and the Netherlands, all of which use and re-use the Snapper package. Folkman readily asserts that this also makes it the most eco-friendly box of its kind, and that the Snapper is widely accepted in Germany, where environmental laws are stricter than they are in the U.S.

The Snapper is also doing extremely well in the domestic home entertainment market. So far, Warner Advanced Media Operations (WAMO) has used it for 80 percent of its total 17 million DVD output, and 45 percent of DVD-Video releases have been packaged in the Snapper this year. Folkman remains optimistic about the Snapper’s furore, and expects it to claim at least 50 percent of the U.S. DVD-Video market in 2000.

Yet the Snapper is not necessarily the final word in DVD packaging options, despite its growing acclaim within the industry. The most popular packaging option for DVD since its late 1995 debut (shortly after the Snapper) is the Amaray box.

Constructed out of polypropylene, Amaray casing meets the VSDA size requirements and was designed to meet all of the DVD-specific concerns listed above by Sansbury. The interior features a molded impression custom-fit to the disc, ensuring that both sides of it remain untouched and unscratehed. To minimize pressure on the inside hub and diameter, the consumer can release the disc from the case with a specially made pushbutton hub. Retailers liked how comfortably it fit into their VHS-tailored shelf space, while replicators appreciated its practicality. With the Amaray box, packagers had found a surefire DVD-specific design that pleased not only replicators, but also retailers and the studios releasing films in the new format.

Designed and patented in 1995, the Amaray box was the result of a joint effort between the Joyce Molding Corporation and DuBois PLC, a company based in the United Kingdom. After Amaray International was liquidated 10 years ago, Joyce and DuBois purchased its United States and European assets, then collaborated to design a DVD box in 1995. The box was created at DuBois, then brought to Joyce, where the process of molding its plastic was perfected. Though neither company participated in the VSDA conference, both were informed of the decisions made there. Tim Anglum, president of TapePonents Co., Inc, the sales and marketing company for Joyce Molding, recalls that the decisions made by the VSDA did help shape the final Amaray product. “Though we have not had any official response from the VSDA, the package was designed with their specs in mind, so we are confident of their support,” confirms Anglum. With five major studios and most independents now using the Amaray box, Anglum sees no cause for concern.

He believes that the box is in high demand mainly because of its appearance and construction. “We believe that the package has become so popular because it incorporates the best aspects of a highly automatable rigid package while offering the aesthetic appeal of a large and flexible graphics area,” Anglum explains. He states that the Amaray box also caught on with studios and retailers because Joyce Molding made an early advance on the DVD market. Taking the lead has helped them to further the Amaray’s appeal, not only with studios, but replicators as well. Anglum describes the effort that Joyce Molding has made toward that end.

“We proved early on that we were willing to make the capital investment necessary to support unknown, but potentially explosive, demand. We also work closely with machinery companies to ensure that our package can run at the consistently high speeds required. There are now five major replicators with machinery to assemble our package automatically.” Yet the Amaray box would not remain the only DVD containment option.

DVD-VIDEO PACKAGING REDUX: THE NEW WRAP PACK

Though Amaray and Snapper enjoyed rapid success, other packagers soon began releasing innovative alternatives. Today’s favored choices to the Snapper and the Amaray include the popular Alphapak and the newer Clear-Vu Trac-Pac. Both are now beginning to catch on with film studios, who are looking for new ways to catch the consumer’s eye while also adhering to VSDA requirements. Both can also already be found at major retail outlets, and will gain continued shelf-space advances during the second half of 1999.

The Alphapak emerged as an improvement on the Amaray design, debuting in the home entertainment market as of March 1998. Ron Burdett, vice president of the Entertainment and Media division at Alpha Enterprises, Inc., asserts that the Alphapak was created to be more “user-friendly,” and remembers the research involved before the first prototype of the Alphapak had even been conceived. Alpha started with the standard “push-button” hub, which requires the user to press down on the hub securing a DVD before removing it from the package.

“We did market research, and we found that people intuitively try to pull the disc out,” says Burdett. “Because the CD has been out since the ’80s, people are used to reaching into a jewel box and pulling the disc out. This research led to the development of the Alphapak’s key feature, our patented E-Z Hub.” The E-Z Hub, approved by the DVD Consortium (now DVD Forum), features two small latches that secure the disc without placing any pressure on its surface. To test the reliability of the hub, the Alphapak was subjected to a “drop test,” in which it was dropped at varying heights and angles thousands of times to see if the disc would fall out of place. Burdett assures completely successful results, and is confident of the E-Z Hub’s strength and reliability.

Though not yet as prominent as the Amaray box, Burdett is optimistic about the Alphapak’s future: “We’re behind Amaray because they came out first, but we’ve gained major market share. There are three major studios using our case, plus we also sell to replicators.” He also is quick to point out that Alpha will still be creating new DVD packaging solutions, and mentions that a new version of the Alphapak has recently been released with the studios’ needs in mind.

Alpha Enterprises introduced the Double Alphapak, a package created especially for storing two DVDs, as of March 1999. The user opens the case to find a plastic tray holding the first DVD, which the user can mm over like a page in a book to access the second disc.

The Double Alphapak is 50 percent thicker than the original, but otherwise features the same dimensions to appeal to retailers. As film studios begin releasing special products for DVD (i.e., longer films or a film series), Burdett is certain that both versions of the Alphapak will succeed, even though they are relatively new to DVD users.

Other companies are still drafting new designs, in an attempt to appeal to content providers with as many possibilities as they could want. In 1996, Clear-Vu introduced the Trac-Pac, one of the few tray-based solutions for DVD media. The Trac-Pac also follows VSDA size recommendations, but otherwise is gaining notice in the packaging industry for its unique design. “The disc is held in place in a sliding drawer format,” states Grace Consoli, director of sales and marketing at Clear-Vu Products. “The standard rosette hub puts stress on the disc every time it’s removed and returned. With the Trac-Pac, there is no stress and the pull-out design forces the correct handling of the media.”

The package contains a molded platform that the disc rests on, exposing only the unwritable side of it to the interior of the box. This platform fits into a plastic rib cage protecting the disc from the paper material, and is secured from the top and bottom by plastic teeth that clasp together once the user slides the tray back inside. The Trac-Pac also features two graphics display options, standard and bookstyle, and an integrated lock to secure its contents. The bookstyle display allows retailers to advertise product in greater detail, while the lock should appeal to corporate users seeking security measures.

Though the Amaray, Alpha, and Snapper boxes still represent the current favorites, development of DVD packaging is not over. Aside from continued competition among packagers to comer the DVD-Video market, there is also still the question of the emerging DVD-ROM format. It will be held to a different packaging standard entirely, one that will appeal to the still-growing legion of CD-ROM publishers and users.

A FINAL WRAP-UP THE FUTURE OF DVD PACKAGING

As the 21st century begins, the emphasis for DVD packaging will be on evolution, not revolution. Retailers and replicators won’t want packagers to make too many bold innovations immediately. The former will want to see how well DVD fares with the consumer, while the latter will need to be sure that the discs are provided with adequate protection. For DVD-Video, the VSDA requirements will continue to help determine the look of all new designs, while DVD-ROM cases will be mostly the same as used for CD-ROM. In both instances, the idea is to gradually introduce the new medium to home video and computer users.

Packagers will likewise wait and monitor the progress of DVD sales before spending additional money on research and development for new casing concepts. Their strategy will be to rely on proven storage options, allowing consumers enough time to learn to recognize the new product and to upgrade their hardware. Once DVD becomes the next multimedia standard, packagers will simply need to increase their output while accepting feedback from content providers about any future box or case concepts. As the new discs find their way into more homes and offices each year, the outlook for DVD packagers looks as promising as it does for the future of the medium itself.

companies mentioned in this article

Alpha Enterprises, Inc.

208 Carter Drive, Suite 14, P.O. Box 1750,

West Chester, PA 19380; 610/436-8823;

Fax 610/436-9123; http://www.

alphaenterprises.com; INFOLINK #401

Clear-Vu Products

29 New York Avenue, Westbury, NY 11950;

800/221-4545, 516/333-8880; Fax

516/333-7695; http://www.clear-vu.com;

INFOLINK #404

DuBois PLC

5 Princewood Road, Corby, Northants, United

Kingdom NN17 4AP; +44 1536 267434;

Fax +44 1536 203537; INFOLINK #407

Joyce Molding Corporation

52 Green Pond Road, Rockaway, NJ 07866;

973/586-2900; Fax 973/627-5730;

INFOLINK #410

Nimbus CD International, Inc.

UIL Technicolor Company)

P.O. Box 7427, Charlottesville, VA 22906;

800/231-O778, 804/985-1100;

Fax 804/985-4625; http://www.nimbuscd.

com; INFOLINK #413

Sansbury & Associates

3521 Kilpatrick Lane, Lithonia, GA 30058;

770/979-2141; Fax 770/979-3873;

INFOLINK #418

Shorewood Packaging Corporation

277 Park Avenue, 3Oth Floor, New York,

NY 10172-3000; 212/371-1500;

http://www.shorepak.com; INFOLINK #419

TapePonente Co., Inc.

5 Romaine Road, Mountain Lakes,

NJ 07046; 973/263-1442;

Fax 973/263-8640; INFOLINK #420

Warner Media Services

375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014;

212/741-1404; Fax 212/243-8255;

INFOLINK #423

RELATED ARTICLE: The Lost Media: WHERE’S DVD-ROM?

Until 1998, it was the DVD-Video market that sparked the revolution in DVD packaging. As the VSDA drew up guidelines and the first Amaray box was built, DVD-ROM remained a quiet presence, waiting until it would gain widespread acceptance among both the home and corporate data storage markets.

Though its day hasn’t yet come, the new millennium will likely see DVD-ROM rise at last as a viable option among computer users. “For DVD-ROM, there isn’t a lot going on out there this minute,” concedes Robert Headrick, executive vice president of optical sales at Nimbus Manufacturing Inc. “In the beginning, I don’t think that anyone knew whether DVD-ROM or DVD-Video was going to take off first, and it happened that video did. So the packaging developers spent more time and effort on that.”

Regarding his experience with packagers, Headrick confirms that they are fully prepared for the coming upswing in DVD-ROM releases: “Everybody is ready. That wasn’t the case a year ago or even 18 months ago, when all of the packagers were scrambling to find their niche in the DVD market and come up with something different than their competitors.” When considering why packagers have suddenly risen to competition, Headrick explains that DVD hardware has become increasingly accessible and affordable in 1999, a trend that will continue into the next several years. `Windows 98 made it easier for product developers to start developing product and DVD-ROM drives are now no longer coming out exclusively on high-range computers. The mid-range computers featuring DVD-ROM will jump-start that market.”

Though Headrick is convinced of DVD-ROM’s inevitable rise by 2001, he admits that it is still too difficult right now to determine what sort of packaging to expect. “The reason there isn’t a DVD-ROM packaging standard is because there aren’t a lot of DVD-ROM products out there right now,” says Headrick. “Product developers are now working fast and furious, but not enough of them are standing up to demand what they want. For now, many want to stick with the jewel case. It is Very basic, but it does fall in line with what people are familiar with on the CD-ROM side. On the DVD-ROM jobs that we’ve done, the customer has requested a jewel case with the DVD logo imprinted on the tray and the jewel box itself.”

Pam Sansbury concurs, indicating the limitations of the sleeves used on some current DVD releases. Though a paper or cardboard sleeve is the least expensive option to manufacture, there is some concern that it can also damage a DVD. “I spoke to a company that manufactures sleeves,” Sansbury recalls, “and I told them that if they were planning to transfer information once, that’s fine. If you’re going to use that disc repeatedly, then I’d do some tasting to see what scratches would occur by putting it in and out of that envelope.”

Sansbury predicts that DVD-ROM will follow the precedent set by CD-ROM, and will rely on the same kind of casing. “DVD packaging will still be on the same scale as CD-ROM. I don’t think you’re going to see anything more ornate because the cost of goods is such an issue. It’s the only cost that a manufacturer can’t control when creating product.” She concurs with Headrick that the jewel case, the old standby for CD-ROM, will take the lead in for DVD-ROM.

“The jewel case is pretty tough to beat for a lot of reasons,” says Rusty Capers, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Cinram. “It’s easy to merchandise, and it’s compact. We’ll probably see a version of it made specifically for DVD.” That version, the DVD Super Jewel Box, has already been released. It features a smaller hub to accommodate the DVD structure standard, and conforms to the same as a CD-ROM case.

Released in March 1999, the DVD Super Jewel Box was first created at the Philips and Polygram Design Centers. Though mostly identical to the standard jewel case, the Super Jewel Box features single and double disc spindles designed specifically for a DVD and stronger hinges. It is also made of polystyrene plastic for greater durability, and can fit on current packing machines. This will satisfy replicators and packagers, who will also have another option to choose from.

Shorewood Packaging acquired the Queens Group in October 1998 and plans to modify the Group’s Q-Pack for DVD-ROM Originally manufactured for audio CDs, the Q-Pack is a paperboard construct in a high-impact styrene frame. “It doesn’t self-destruct like the standard jewel case does, and offers a totally different graphic approach,” promises Ken Rosenblum, senior vice president for home entertainment and video. “It’s been growing in the music business as a jewel case alternative, and now for Divx releases as well.” Rosenblum believes that a DVD version of the Q-Pack will find quick approval in the packaging industry, since it is already a proven solution. “It automatically loads on a replicator’s existing equipment. They want a package that can flow through their plant very quickly, and the Q-Pack can do that.” Shorewood shall expand into the international market in 1999 with plants in Europe and South America, which will broaden the marketplace for the Q-Pack as it makes its debut.

Like the CD-ROM jewel cases before them, both the Super Jewel Box and Q-Pack will be packed within cardboard boxes for marketing purposes. “When you see more DVD-ROM titles coming out, you’re still going to see a large outer carton,” confirms Sansbury. “I don’t think you’re going to see anything more ornate because the costs of goods is an issue.” Packaging innovations for DVD-ROM will most likely wait until the media becomes profitable enough.

Lee Hollman is a frequent contributor to EMedia Professional and a freelance writer based in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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