A new twist on the business card shuffle

A former cable executive is banking on a pocket-sized CD-ROM

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 UrbanWorld 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

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