Star Trek: The Next Presentation

This year sees the start of the European release of Star Trek: Voyager on DVD. Seven box sets will be released over the rest of 2004 and partway through 2005. The Region 2 DVD packaging of the Star Trek brand has been very different than the Region 1 releases. Darren Rea looks at the origins of the European packaging of the Star Trek box sets...

AGI Media's ST:TNG box set design for the US market reflected the look of the characters' uniforms

Paramount Home Entertainment's ongoing DVD release of its Star Trek franchise has seen the company employ different strategies in different markets. For the US release of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) and Star Trek: Voyager AGI Media employed the use of 14 panel DVDigipacks that incorporated seven clear trays with pockets. The company also used foil stamping to help add a premium appearance to the packaging.

However, for the European release a totally different form of packaging was employed which incorporated injection moulded ABS cases that housed the DVDs in clear Digistack trays. Not only has this packaging been extremely successful throughout Europe, but it has also been a hit with fans across the Atlantic - American Star Trek fans have been purchasing the European versions in order to own the "better" packaging.

Paramount originally commissioned London-based design consultancy, Feref, to look into developing a packaging solution that would provide shelf standout, as well as promoting the Star Trek brand as a high quality product.

Robin Behling, creative partner at Feref, stated that re-launching a TV series that had already been released on VHS was a challenge. "You have to give the consumer a compelling reason to buy," said Behling. "With DVD you often get some extras on the discs, but Feref has been developing ideas for sometime to demonstrate that the packaging itself provides the opportunity to make a product unique and 'collectable'. TNG gave us the ideal platform to bring these concepts to commercial reality."

The European design for the DVD release of ST:TNG

Behling added that there are two markets in the world for entertainment: "America... and the rest of the world." There has also been a shift in the market. Around five years ago about 50% of the worldwide revenue from theatrically released movies came from America. That's changing and Behling states that that figure now sees America with a declining 40% share.

"We've been working on Star Trek for about 11 years," said Behling. "On an international platform we've been steering the marketing from this office. It came to a peak about three years ago when Paramount said they wanted to release TNG, DS9, Voyager and finally the original series. They came to us and said: 'You've been working on this brand for some time now, how do you think we could market and launch the first season of TNG on DVD?'

The DS9 box sets used the same moulds as ST:TNG

But why did Paramount go for a different style of packaging for the European market? Chris Kinsella, marketing director at Feref, said: "One of the key things that came out of the research, and what we know of Trekkers in Europe, is that they are a relatively loyal fan base and also they are also interested in the collectable nature of the products that they buy into. In the States you haven't got such a hardcore audience. With the number of channels they've got you can probably see an episode of Star Trek at any time. So, it's interesting to see a lot of hardcore American buyers purchasing from Europe so they could get the better box."

Because of the high price point, it was decided not to scrimp when it came to presentation. There was a budget, but within that budget Feref wanted to source the optimum materials.

"When we looked at DVD packaging for box sets, especially three years ago when this launch began, there wasn't that much variety out there. It was mainly just cardboard packaging with slipcases and we wanted to break the mould and use plastics," said Behling. "We were quite astonished at how affordable it was to do that - as long as the numbers were up and as long as we designed it so that we came up with a generic concept."

Feref's pack design took on the appearance of a starship's medkit

Due to the complexity of the job AGI Media Packaging Europe worked in conjunction with Feref to ensure that early design concepts could be produced in three dimensions. The original design used for the TNG boxes has remained the same for the DS9 and Voyager packs. The tooling and moulding of the box has remained constant. What has changed is the décor on the front of each pack.

John Butcher, sales director at AGI Media Packaging London, said: "This job for Feref was one of the most challenging that we had ever come across. Although we were working from a design that looked superb, we had to produce a pack that would meet an aggressive price point."

In addition to the box, AGI produced a bespoke Digipak for the TNG collection. The special Digipak has seven DVD Digilok trays, requiring AGI's facility in Birmingham to alter its automatic tray placing machinery in order to produce the Digipak.

One of Seven: a Voyager box set

"We used the Digipak and Digistack and both of those are compiled by machine," said Behling. Digipak is a very common form now and every printer uses them. Digistack, which is basically putting together clear trays and taping down the sides, has now just come on line. But to place the discs in, that still has to be done by hand.

A special design feature of the Digipak is that it shows a vista of outer space when it is opened out. To add to the collectibility of TNG, Feref has designed the Digipaks so that when all seven editions are placed together they will show the entire Universe.

This generic pack has served the Star Trek brand well and will continue to do so until Voyager has been released at the end of this year.

Another benefit to using plastics is that it is a very robust material to use. Standard cardboard packs get tarnished easily in transit, or once on the retailer's shelves. This not only reflects badly on the brand, but also causes a number of dealer problems that may see them having to discount the damaged boxes to get rid of them, or there may be return issues.

The DS9 packs were designed to look out of this world

"If you look at the Amaray box it's made from polypropylene," said Behling. "There's nothing wrong with that, but it's very flexible. We looked around at other products on the market. We ended up looking at ABS plastic which is very durable and high impact."

The only way the boxes could be produced in ABS was by injection moulding. A lot of research and development went into the tooling and Feref sourced a high end company and worked with them to get everything right - right down to the hinging. As long as you don't try and force it back on itself, deliberately attempting to break the hinges, Behling states that it should last a life time.

But injection moulding brought with it another problem. How could a uniform silver colour be achieved over the packaging? One of the possible solutions was to inject a silver flitter into the plastic. But, while this would give a silver/grey appearance to the plastic it didn't take into account the problem of flow lines in the production process.

The look of the TOS outer packs is based on the series' colour-coded uniforms

"When the injection goes in it is incredibly hot material," said Behling. "The pressure that it goes in at is something like 500 tonnes per square inch. Because it has to set quickly, very cold water is injected around the tool. Half of the skill of producing the mould is to produce the ducts that will take the cold water around the piece of solid steel. And the most efficient way of cooling means that you can make more boxes per minute, which helps to keep the cost down." In the end they decided to spray the box - the same process that is used for creating mobile phones.

A lot of the work that went into the ongoing release of the Star Trek packs will have a wider implication across the DVD market. "At the moment we are just finalising the product with our clients for the Christmas release. Kinsella. "From the brands we are working on, I think this is going to be the year of premium, plastic packaging."

So what have Feref got up there sleeves for the launch of Star Trek: The Original Series on DVD? They are staying tight lipped on this at present, but Behling simply commented: "Watch this space!"

With thanks to Greenroom Digital

Paramount Home Entertainment is releasing the entire series of Star Trek: Voyager on DVD in seven box sets between 03 May 2004 and 02 May 2005.

Buy Star Trek: Voyager seasons 1-7 by clicking here
Buy Star Trek: Deep Space Nine seasons 1-7 by clicking here
Buy Star Trek: The Next Generation seasons 1-7 by clicking here

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