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Can Wal-Mart Save UltraViolet?

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Hollywood’s Ultraviolet cloud initiative has registered only 1 million users to date and has been dogged by complaints that its technology is too cumbersome for consumers. Next week, the five major studios behind Ultraviolet will hold a press conference with Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) to detail their new partnership. Is this the lifeline the struggling movie-cloud venture has been looking for?

On Tuesday in Los Angeles Wal-Mart is expected to announce details about how it will serve UltraViolet and provide with the retail partnership it can’t live without. Backed by five of Hollywood’s six major studios — Disney (NYSE: DIS) remains the only holdout — UltraViolet was launched in October with hopes that would entice consumers away from low-margin rental streaming of movies and TV shows, as well as illegal torrenting, through a system of cloud-based distribution of digital entertainment. The essential pitch: buy a DVD, Blu-ray or electronic sell-through title from a participating major studio, and play it on up to 12 devices and share it with your family.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) announced UltraViolet retail support for Warner Bros. (NYSE: TWX) releases. But to date, the initiative has lacked a crucial retail touchpoint serving all the participating studios — a much-needed brick-and-mortar destination that can walk consumers through the tedium of cloud sign-up and solve a range of other problems. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Wal-Mart was in talks to establish such a location within the photo-printing area of most, if not all, of its U.S. stores. The Journal also said that Wal-Mart will kick in much-needed retail promotional support in the form of a $30 million marketing campaign. Wal-Mart is also expected to provide details on how authentication of current disc libraries will be handled through UltraViolet.

At CES, Samsung showed off several new Blu-ray players with a “Disc to Digital” feature that would upload consumers’ existing DVD and Blu-ray titles to the UltraViolet cloud for a nominal fee. However, it’s believed that Wal-Mart will announce a service whereby legacy disc titles will have to be authenticated through its stores in order to be uploaded to the cloud. A Samsung representative did not respond to inquiries as to how the Disc to Digital would work with such a retail scheme.

Also expected to be announced: the inclusion of Wal-Mart’s Vudu online movie download and rental service into the UltraViolet portfolio. To date, UltraViolet has lacked a partner with the technological infrastructure to sell and serve movies to a wide range of devices. Vudu, the nation’s No. 3 online movie service, has app that plays on most devices and could solve many of those issues.

4 Responses to “Can Wal-Mart Save UltraViolet?”

  1. Jack Sadelstein

    I downloaded my UV copy of Moneyball and watched it on an airplane. Most airplanes also have wi-fi now so don’t think streaming would be an issue at all.

    Walmart getting into UV is certainly good for the product in general, even though UV has grown exponentially very well and quickly imo. At first during their launch downloads were lacking from what i read in some reviews on Amazon but I have 3 UV movies and I downloaded all of them onto my Mac… great quality too.
    Industry buzz this week I read online is that they also are going to offer a common file format which you can download for any device for offline viewing which will be good. Isn’t Amazon jumping into UltraViolet too?

  2. UV is being marketed as a digital copy which I consider fraudulent. Its a streaming service, so I can’t load my “digital copy” onto my laptop or phone or tablet and use it on an airplane. Or on the train to work, which has numerous problems with cell coverage. Cloud services are OK for those who can make use of them, but marketing UV as a digital copy has insured that I will never subscribe to there service nor pay a penny extra for any DVD or Blu-ray offering it. As opposed to Disney who provides a true digital copy that you can use anywhere without consuming expensive (or non-existent) mobile bandwidth.