A new twist on the business card shuffle.
Of the countless business cards you've received in the past, how many made an impression on you? Or, better yet, how many included a multimedia presentation? Probably none, since the DigiCard was only introduced to the U.S. market in August 1998. The device can hold up to 30 mb of data, or about five to 10 minutes of digital audio and video clips. The DigiCard is a square CD-ROM just slightly larger than a business card. In terms of impact, however, it casts a large shadow over its cardboard counterpart. The device plays in standard CD-ROM trays and is compatible with most major operating systems, including Mac, OS/2 and Windows 3.x, 95, 98 and NT. The card works best on machines running at 133 MHz or better with at least a 4x CD-ROM.
"The most profound element of the DigiCard is that it allows you to think differently about marketing," says Clayton Banks, president of New York-based Ember Media Corp., which holds the North American distribution rights for the DigiCard. "I thought we'd be heavily involved in entertainment, but I've got doctors, ad agencies and record labels on board." In fact, organizations ranging from the Home Box Office cable network to the United Nations and local churches have also included the DigiCard in their marketing mix. HBO recently sponsored the Urban World film tour, and used the card to include clips of HBO movies as well as links to its Cybersoul City Website.
Banks, a former cable industry executive, only learned of the DigiCard in the spring of 1998 when a colleague, Andy Fehr, first showed him the design. The card was designed and patented by a Swiss inventor, Gerhard Fischer. Fischer's patent applies to the method he devised to make the oddly shaped card play in CD-ROM trays intended for normal CD-ROM discs. It is held in place by two small posts that fit into the inner groove of the player and allow the CD player's turning mechanism to spin the card.
"My initial thought was `Wow, we have this great product. Now, how do we build a company around it?'" recalls Banks. Last August, he and four partners launched Ember Media, a multimedia content development company, with $100,000. Although the novelty of the DigiCard sparked the creation of Ember Media, the company's main focus is creating content not distributing the cards. However, distributing the cards does create ancillary revenues. The minimum order is 500 cards at $3.70 each for a plain card and protective plastic sleeve. The price decreases as the number of cards increases to as low as $1.45 each for orders upwards of 50,000. "The higher margin is in content development. The DigiCard just happens to be a great delivery system," adds Banks. Ember Media's multimedia development fees range from $5,000 to $50,000. Having come from the cable industry, Banks is used to being concerned more with content than delivery.
Banks began his career in 1988 as an account manager at Showtime. His work eventually led to the launch of The Movie Channel in New York. In 1994, he took a position as senior vice president of sales and marketing for the now-defunct Sega Channel. The emergence of the Internet and more robust video games eventually closed the network in mid-1998, but Banks had already moved on to Comedy Central, where he took a position as vice president of affiliate relations and rode the success of the cult cartoon hit South Park.
"By 1997 my career had hit a point where it was time to get a piece of the action, and I thought it was time to bet on myself," says Banks, who plans to one day head a cable network. "Had I stayed at Comedy Central, there eventually may have been an opportunity to run the channel, but I was looking for equity."
Ember Media was the vehicle, and the ride has been fast and furious. In just under a year of operation, Ember Media has shipped over 500,000 cards. "The card has been so successful that through word of mouth, the product has sold itself," says Banks.
Larry Golden put in a call to Ember Media as soon as he saw the card. "I'd been trying to get our tech staff to put my catalog on CD-ROM, but there was no sense of urgency," says Golden, a vice president at Clean Air Engineering (CAE), a Palatine, Illinois-based air pollution testing firm. "As soon as they saw the card, they couldn't wait to do it." He had his entire catalog on the card in under a month, just in time for an upcoming trade show. "We've been doing this show for over 10 years and we've never gotten this kind of reaction. People were literally dragging other people to our booth to get them."
The response was so great that Golden convinced his company to find a way to get in on the ground floor of the new technology. After hammering out a deal with Ember Media, in October CAE Media--the newest division of CAE--became the Midwestern supplier of the DigiCard. "Everyone who has ordered the card from us has come back for more," says Golden, whose firm has recently become a national distributor.
Now entering his first round of financing, Banks hopes that the interest CAE showed in the DigiCard will be shared by other investors. He hopes to have an initial public offering ready by the first quarter of 2000. To ensure the company continues to dominate the market, Ember Media has developed several variations on the DigiCard theme, including heart-shaped, concert ticket and scratch-and-sniff versions.
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|Title Annotation:||the DigiCard, a CD-ROM the size of a business card|
|Author:||Muhammad, Tariq K.|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Aug 1, 1999|
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