Where is Media Packaging Going?

Posted: June 6, 2008 by
Ron Romanik

Contrary to a popular belief of recent years, CD and DVD packaging is not going to disappear from the retail environment due to digital downloads. In fact, media packaging may become a pivotal proving ground for sustainable packaging concepts that also provide value to the consumer. However, there are several hurdles in the path of wide-scale packaging format change.

Two recent conferences addressed the future of media packaging. The "Green Media Summit" in early April brought together leaders from the major film studios, replicators, distributors, and packaging companies, and the "Hollywood Goes Green" conference this past December featured a keynote by known environmental crusader Ed Begley Jr. and informative panel discussions. On the surface at least, it appears that the entertainment industry is willing to look for alternatives to conventional packaging as many packaging companies are reporting more sustainability inquiries.

Desire to change

"It's a gigantic conversation to get into," says Dustin Wills, v.p. home entertainment sales at Shorewood Packaging. "It goes beyond the package to the entire supply chain." Wills explains that the major studios and distributors are in the process of identifying the best possible solutions. Often, it comes down to cost, though media packaging is only a small piece of the total monetary pie when it comes to packaging media. That's why adoption of alternative packaging is a little slower than expected, limited to some one-off examples for the time being.

"I think it was long overdue," says Larry Jaffee, columnist for Mediaware magazine. "The jewel box outlived its usefulness 10 years ago. I think the major labels at this point know that consumers are sick of jewel cases. " Jaffee admits that there is much more freedom in special releases or collections, as a premium package can absorb extra cost with a premium price, but those opportunities seem less attractive these days. "They have to justify putting out a deluxe package," explains Jaffee.

David Coho, v.p. of sales and marketing at Univenture, explains that movie studios are grappling with the big issues. "For studios, the question is: What is it that they want to accomplish?" says Coho. Warner Bros. knew what it wanted to accomplish with the DVD release of The 11th Hour, an environmentally conscious movie produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. It was launched in time for Earth Day at Wal-Mart with a five-dollar price tag and an earth-friendly package by Univenture.

The 11th Hour package is made with 100% renewable resources in the same manner that the DVD release of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth: A Global Warming was last year. This minimal packaging has a recycled paperboard sleeve sealed for retail in clear EarthFirst ® PLA (bio-based) film. "We're not saying any single substrate is the silver bullet," Coho emphasizes, and Univenture's solutions are not married to any substrate.

Shelli Kaiser, v.p. of marketing at NAPCO Inc., notes that the media industry is using third-party consultants and researchers to verify options, but no big moves have yet been made. "Any adoption by a major studio is going to start with baby steps," says Kaiser. "But the studios themselves have put their own goals together."

Shorewood's Wills has also been privy to the collaborative research and database collection of studios looking for the right solutions, and he believes Wal-Mart's initiatives have added substantial motivation. Shorewood Packaging has also been conducting its own third-party research into the sustainable media packaging solutions so they can show its clients what misinformation is out there, what substantiation is possible, and what transparency can be achieved. "I definitely think the motivation is there," says Wills.

What's in a package

One conflict that studios and music companies are grappling over is the perceived worth of a media product and package together. Since much of sustainability comes from material reduction, does a less substantial package convey less fundamental worth to the consumer? Also, what are the key elements of a package that should remain, and can they somehow be replaced with content delivered in other ways —e.g., online liner notes. "The customer still needs to feel as if they're getting something," Coho reminds.

A year-and-a-half ago, Universal Music Group's UMe label started releasing its Millennium Collection series in Shorewood's eco-friendly RePak® packages, which are half the weight of a jewel case. Instead of a CD booklet, there's with a single outer cover that has only front, inside front, and back panels. A biodegradable PaperFoam ® CD tray secures the disc in its customary position. A website address ( indicates where to view the liner notes, and they recently added a seed-infused digital download card in honor of Wal-Mart's "Earth Month."

Jerry Stein, v.p. of production at Universal's UMe division, explains that aside from The Millenium Collection, the only other current push for eco-friendly CD packaging is from newly signed artists that have earth-friendly values. The major releases from major labels will take some time to migrate to sustainable solutions. "The biggest hurdle we are all facing is that the production has been geared up for so long, " Stein says.

Agreeing on a standard

John Rebecchi, senior v.p. of Disc Graphics Inc., says the recent entertainment media conferences showed that the movie studios are wrestling with charting an industry direction rather than each studio doing a unique package size and design. Package dimensions, weight, substrate, and useful life are all considerations since most studios use a handful of replicators, each having major investments in automating the ubiquitous Amaray case. "I don't see any clarity in the marketplace that says this is the direction we are going, " Rebecchi cautions. "The road to a solution is nonlinear."

The bottom line realization is that any large scale change in DVD or CD packaging would require new investments in equipment and automation. Rebecchi explains that conclusions coming from the summit included the need to organize a working group of representatives from all the major studios to develop common standards for designing more sustainable DVD packaging. "Such a cooperative step seems out of place in a highly competitive industry," says Rebecchi. "However, common challenges seem to bring out a degree of unity in this business."

Kaiser agrees that the major studios are all looking at implementing eco-friendly media packaging and many have come together to cohesively work with various analysts to arrive at a common solution that will meet individual studio goals toward carbon neutrality as well as retail requirements. Retailers are looking to the studios to recommend packaging and it is the goal of retailers and studios to come up with a common packaging platform that will not disrupt the industry.

Bob Anstine, v.p. of marketing and business development at Shorewood, explains how intricate the question of the right solution has become. The carbon footprint and economies of production and scale must be taken into account. "As time has gone by, it has become even more complex," says Anstine, who still sees the entertainment industry as possible sustainability leaders. "The home entertainment customer is aggressive," Anstine continues. "They've definitely leaned forward on it more that other categories."

Interim solutions

A Wal-Mart pilot program last fall focused on the supply chain energy consumption of seven product categories: DVDs, toothpaste, soap, milk, beer, vacuum cleaners, and soda. According to the Winnipeg Sun, News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment initiated a supply chain analysis of the carbon impact of the production, manufacture, and distribution of its DVDs, which led to an industry standard for measuring the carbon impact of DVDs.

Last fall, Universal Studios Home Entertainment Canada released the DVD for the comedy hit Evan Almighty in a very thin paperboard sleeve for supply chain efficiencies. It was reported that boxes containing 30 normal-sized DVD packages could hold 100 of the slimmer paperboard sleeves. Universal also touted that the package used soy ink and sourced the paper products from sustainably managed forests.

In a March 29th Billboard Magazine article entitled "Labels Embracing Green Packaging," writer Ed Christman reported that Sony Sales, the shared-services department that represents Columbia and Epic, was planning three different CD packages, with differing levels of content, for every new release, starting with test trials in July.

NAPCO's Kaiser predicts that prices will come down when volumes go up, and there is a willingness to invest in equipment. To date, NAPCO has seen over three million of their earth-friendly ECOtray CD cases shipped into retail. Central to the ECOtray's strengths is its resistance to heat and humidity and its patent-pending FIBERlok hub, which offers excellent disc retention even during the most rigorous drop testing. NAPCO's new EcoBox replicates the size and shape of a standard DVD case, using turned edge rigid paperboard that's 100% post-consumer waste (PCW).

Package Design Magazine released its "Designing for Sustainable Packaging" webinar DVD in an eco-designed package that was printed on FSC-certified paperboard and utilized a PaperFoam Tray. According to the PaperFoam company, the tray reduces the carbon footprint of the finished product by 85-90% compared to conventional plastic packaging. The PaperFoam tray is made from natural wood fibers, potato starch, and water.

According to the Sustainable Life Media website, independent film studio Lionsgate has unveiled a new DVD case made from 100% recycled materials for the release of season three of Showtime's Weeds series. The DVD case is fully recyclable and features a disc tray containing plastic recovered from used water bottles. Manufacturing the tray from recycled materials requires less than 10% of the energy required to make a new case, according to Lionsgate.

Communicating values

Disc Graphics' Rebecchi observes that media companies believe in the need to properly communicate their investment in eco-design and its value to the environment, but exactly how to achieve that is not clear. It seems that people are still confused by the plethora of logos. Rebecchi notes that some small-scale studies have shown consumers recognized recycled and recyclable logos but did not understand many of the others currently in use. The better strategy is to tell a story, and don't overwhelm the consumer," Rebecchi says.

Stein explains that the UMe Millenium Collection packages have a sticker on the packages that reads "Music Friendly and Earth Friendly," and an inside explanation of the package's features. "We know that our clients like it, we hope the customers do as well," says Stein.

Shorewood's Anstine says that they talk to their customers to get out the message. There's evidence that sustainable entertainment packaging may create a more favorable opinion in consumers' eyes, but whether that translates to purchase intent is a separate matter. Of course, the decision to bring out a package that may up the retail price is a case-by-case decision. "There's a small percentage that will pay more for a sustainable package," Anstine explains.

Rereleases and collections have potential because the price point can absorb the expense. But the key is communicating premium. "Rerelease packages must indicate to the consumer that there is something special, " says Rebecchi. "The studio is less concerned about the construction when a premium product can bring a premium price point. "

Univenture's Coho believes that there are a number of media companies that truly understand what sincere sustainable goals should be, far beyond just stripping down or changing substrate. "Insincerity is going to be seen by the customer," Coho says. "It's our responsibility to help show the value in increased life or functionality."

Coho believes that the confusion over possible options is also creating confusion for designers. The positives are many in sustainable packaging, after all, as interactivity can increase, there can be more area to print, clear sections of the package can let the product and message show through, and good design can create consumer anticipation. "We're trying to provide some unique canvasses for our clients, and let designers get creative with it, " Coho says.

Limited-Edition Box Sets Primed for Revival?

Music publisher Primary Wave has revived the lost art form of the deluxe promotional CD package. In the heady CD days of the late 1980s to early 1990s, the major labels used to produce amazing limited editions of releases just for the industry. They were the subject of several coffee-table books and art gallery exhibitions.

"The labels don't do it any more, and I don't know of any other music publisher who has done one," says Devin Lasker, partner and chief imagination officer of Primary Wave. Primary Wave is a newly formed music publisher whose catalog includes compositions of the late Kurt Cobain, lead singer/songwriter of the early 1990s band Nirvana.

Since this is the first time that its music is available for commercial uses, Primary Wave wanted to get the attention of potential licensees. Lasker, who previously worked at Arista Records for 13 years, devised a heart-shaped box (the title of one of Cobain's more enduring songs) made out of wood and cloaked in flannel (the musician's favorite attire). When the lid is open, a jewelry box rendition of "Heart-Shaped Box" plays.

Inside the box are five CDs, containing Nirvana's greatest hits, such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit," instrumental and cover versions by a wide range of singers from Paul Anka to Patti Smith. It puts Geffen's official multi-disc collection from a few years ago to shame in terms of creativity. The only problem is that Nirvana's fans can't buy the piece commercially. Only 500 units of the limited-edition boxed set were made.
The box was sent in November only to the creative heads at advertising agencies, film and TV production companies and several select marketers. Lasker reports the effort has already resulted in a few licensing deals.
— Larry Jaffee