Wal-Mart Jumps Into Video Downloads

According to a well-orchestrated rollout in the mainstream media, retailing giant Wal-Mart is set to enter the video download business Tuesday, with films and TV shows that can be downloaded and played on Windows PCs and some Windows Mobile devices.

A wide range of titles including Superman, The Da Vinci Code and the latest Disney Pirates of the Caribbean will all be available, since no studio in its right mind would dare miss the digital debut of the company that currently sells 40 percent of all U.S. DVDs.

While a crippled movie-download service (only available for Windows PCs, and you can’t burn a copy that works in your DVD player) might have limited appeal, the companion TV-show downloads could take off rapidly. According to USA Today, YouTube hater Viacom will have its shows ready to go for the low Wal-Mart price of $1.96 per episode, available the day after broadcast.

Fox and CW will join Viacom’s MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Logo and VH1 brands, USA Today said. Some of Wal-Mart’s movie prices will also be lower than comparable offerings from iTunes, the stories said, such as $7.50 for older movies, compared to $9.99 at iTunes.

While a partnership with H-P to build the actual site should keep the bits flowing freely, few expect people to stop buying DVDs at Wal-Mart anytime soon since folks still tend to prefer watching movies on the big screen in their living room. Still, with the Apple TV and Slingcatcher on the near horizon promising PC-to-TV viewing, no retailer wants to lose a potential sale either, digital or otherwise.

A good bit of analysis from the AP story by Gary Gentile:

The biggest impact of Wal-Mart’s entry into the digital download business may be that it now frees studios to cut deals with other online services. “It gets the ball rolling finally,” said Tom Adams of Adams Media Research. “Now the studios are free to pursue it as aggressively as they can without worries about what Wal-Mart is going to think.”

If there is anyone who could give Apple a run for their money, it’s Wal-Mart, especially since it plans to offer a wider selection of titles. But it’s also worth noting that Wal-Mart hasn’t yet threatened Apple’s digital music business, and there is a question of what might happen to always low prices when customers start calling up asking for online support. Hard to steer them to one of those friendly greeter-folks through a browser.