An interesting announcement today from Walmart’s Vudu, the digital movie and TV rental service that’s similar to Apple’s iTunes. It has begun to let customers offer access to the UltraViolet-enabled content in their libraries to as many as five people. Invitees in the “Share My Movies by Vudu” initiative have to create an account with Vudu, which is free, or link the Walmart service to their existing UltraViolet digital lockers. Then they get to see or download whatever’s in the inviter’s library — including select DVDs added via Vudu’s Disc to Digital service. “We know you’ve spent a significant amount of money and time building your collection and have plenty more films to add to it,” Vudu Senior Director Amit Balan says in a blog post. “Share My Movies by Vudu is another way we’re helping you get the most out of your collection.” Remember that Disney isn’t a member of UltraViolet — it has its own digital locker service called Disney Movies Everywhere. So its content is out. At the end of 2013 UltraViolet had more than 15M consumer accounts that could access 12,200 movies and TV shows from 10 major content providers.
This is good news for consumers, but not so much for the electronics retailers who plan to engage in a dogfight for market share when it comes to selling smartphones, tablets, TV sets and other gadgets. Walmart said this morning that it will “match select Black Friday offers from Target, Toys R’ Us and Best Buy” beginning Friday — a week ahead of the traditional post-Thanksgiving sales. And Best Buy shares are down 10.6% so far today after it warned investors that its pricing plans will “have a negative impact” on profit margins in Q4. “We will not be shy about investing in winning the holiday season,” CEO Hubert Joly said. The warning “spooked investors,” says B. Riley analyst Scott Tilghman, who trimmed his Q4 forecasts for the chain. Retailers are antsy because Thanksgiving — celebrated the fourth Thursday in November — appears this year on the latest possible date. “With six fewer days from Thanksgiving to Christmas, the retail environment is more competitive than ever,” said Mac Naughton Duncan, Walmart’s U.S. Chief Merchandising and Marketing Officer. Walmart’s move follows Sears and Kmart’s announcement that they’ll begin their sales a week early. More than half of retailers will start their holiday promotions at least five days before Thanksgiving, the National Retail Federation said last week. Many stores also are cutting prices to compete with online retailers including Amazon. The retail trade group says its surveys show that …
The goal is to create an industry standard to provide consumers who buy digital copies of movies additional features, much like they experience when they buy DVD and Blu-ray discs. “We have seen in all of our research and studies with consumers that they’d like to see a better price-value relationship around digital ownership,” Sony Pictures Home Entertainment EVP of Worldwide Digital and Commercial Strategy Jim Underwood tells me. Sony and Wal-Mart will kick things off today by offering what they call VUDU Extras+, a collection of enhancements for those who buy streaming rights to a movie from Wal-Mart’s service or redeem their UltraViolet code on VUDU and watch the movie on a PC or Mac. They’ll be included with the sci-fi thriller District 9. Later this year Sony will include VUDU Extras+ with This Is the End, After Earth, White House Down, Grown Ups 2, Mortal Instruments, Smurfs 2, and One Direction — This Is Us. There’ll be no difference in price vs versions without the extras. One feature, “Enhanced Scene Search,” enables viewers to use dialogue or other cues to jump to favorite scenes. Another feature, “Clip & Share,” makes it easy to post certain scenes to Facebook or Twitter. (Probably not any scenes with nudity — and friends will be encouraged to buy the film, of course.) Although some retailers already offer additional content, “many of the extras out there now are a separately viewed file,” Underwood says. “In the digital space we believe the extras should have interactivity and the ability to engage with them in real time while you’re watching the film.”
UPDATE, 1:40 PM: It doesn’t seem to matter that Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up is Amazon’s best-selling book ahead of its scheduled publication in October. Random House’s Ballantine Books says today that it’s cancelling its plans for the cookbook, Publishers Weekly reports. Deen jumped to Ballantine from Simon & Schuster last year.
PREVIOUS, 11:40: Now J.C. Penney is leaving the Paula Deen business, the Dallas Morning News reports. The paper says that the chain sells Deen-branded cookware and carries a broader array of her merchandise in hundreds of its smaller stores.
PREVIOUS, 8:15 AM: Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart, says that it will “phase out” all of its Paula Deen merchandise and “will continue to evaluate the situation.” Walgreens also says that it’s phasing out Deen-branded goods which include mixes, seasonings and butter.
PREVIOUS, THURSDAY PM: QVC CEO Mike George says in a blog post that “for now” Paula Deen “won’t be appearing on any upcoming broadcasts and we will phase out her product assortment on our online sales channels over the next few months.” The site offers a Deen-branded line of cookware. The shopping channel chief adds that “People deserve second chances. And we always strive to do the right thing.” Following his note, Deen writes one of her own expressing appreciation for “the caring way that QVC has interacted with me over the past week.” She also says that she has “some important things to work on right now, both personally and professionally” and agreed that “it’s best for me to step back from QVC and focus on setting things right.” Deen says that she is “truly sorry and assure you I will work hard to earn your forgiveness.”
PREVIOUS, THURSDAY AM: Target says it will “phase out” the Paula Deen cookware and merchandise in its stores and online. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical manufacturer Novo Nordisk, which had teamed with the celebrity chef to promote Victoza — a drug for diabetics — says that it and Deen “have mutually agreed to suspend our patient education activities for now, while she takes time to focus her attention where it is needed.” The company had initially said that it would stand by Deen.
BENTONVILLE, AR, and BURBANK, CA – April 24, 2013 – Walmart announced today that it has partnered with Warner Bros. to give its customers exclusive access to see Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ “Man of Steel” in theaters nationwide before the film’s official release. This program marks the first time in entertainment history that a studio has partnered with a retailer to provide such an opportunity for fans. Tickets for the exclusive screening of “Man of Steel,” will go on sale in more than 3,700 Walmart stores starting at 8 a.m. on May 18. Customers will be able to purchase up to four tickets per visit, and have the option to choose between 2D or 3D showings, where applicable. The advance screening will take place in selected local theaters nationwide at 7 p.m. on June 13. In addition to being the first among their friends to see “Man of Steel,” Walmart customers can also take advantage of the following offers:
DreamWorks Animation titles were added to Walmart’s disc-to-digital Vudu service that launched today at more than 3,500 stores. Vudu bridges the hard goods DVD/Blu-Ray business with the newer digital download efforts. Walmart customers can now get digital copies of movies they’ve purchased on disc from Paramount Home media Distribution, Sony Picgtures Home Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Among the DWA films available in the cloud starting today are Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, the Shrek films and How To Train Your Dragon.
UltraViolet’s had a rocky start. Consumers have struggled to figure out what it is and how it works — and the studios backing the industry initiative have hungered to have a big retailer help walk people through the process. That’s what makes the new alliance with WalMart interesting. Starting on April 16 consumers will be able to take their home videos to some 3,500 WalMart stores and have them converted to digital files stored in the retailer’s Vudu digital storage facilities for Internet streaming. It will cost $2 to transfer a DVD or a Blu-ray disc, and $5 to have a DVD upgraded to a high-definition file. Users must open a free account with WalMart’s Vudu, and go to its site to access digital files. “It will encourage customers to continue buying physical DVDs,” says John Aden, WalMart’s EVP General Merchandise. WalMart has the exclusive right to convert discs to digital in stores. (Samsung has announced a Blu-ray player that will transfer discs to digital for UltraViolet.) The company also plans a “multimonth educational campaign” both in and out of its stores to help people figure out what to do with their discs and how to access movies on mobile and other digital devices. New releases that are UltraViolet enabled already provide buyers with the opportunity to stream a digital file.
This is important for Redbox as its disc kiosks begin to dominate the DVD rental business. Much of Redbox’s clout comes from its growing presence in Walmart stores: The retailer began housing Redbox kiosks in 2006, and now they’re in more than 3,700 stores — accounting for about 13% of Redbox’s 28,000 locations in the U.S. It boasts that more than two thirds of the population lives “within a five-minute drive of a Redbox kiosk” which rents DVDs for $1.20 a night. The companies didn’t announce financial terms of their contract renewal. Investors are still waiting for Redbox’s parent, Coinstar, to unveil its digital streaming strategy. The company also is expected to announce soon whether it will go along with Warner Bros’ effort to double the waiting period for new DVD releases to 56 days, or try to circumvent it by buying discs from retailers — possibly including Walmart.
San Francisco, October 18, 2011—Dolby Laboratories, Inc., (NYSE: DLB) today enabled the first discrete 7.1-channel surround sound entertainment experience available to streaming media using Dolby® Digital Plus audio. VUDU, a leading subscription-free, video-on-demand movie service and wholly owned subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., began streaming Walt Disney Pictures’ Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 audio today.
What a letdown. Dish Network does the dance of the seven veils as it hints that it will take on Netflix, and the big news today is that it will re-brand Blockbuster’s existing streaming and mail-order DVD rental service — and offer it to Dish Network customers willing to pay an extra $10 a month? There’s no way around it: With Blockbuster Movie Pass, Dish just blew a golden opportunity to seize the momentum from Netflix, which is still reeling from the consumer backlash to its 60% price hike for subscribers who want to continue to stream movies and rent DVDs by mail. Blockbuster Movie Pass can stream 3,000 movies to TV sets, and 4,000 to PCs; that’s 25% or less of what Netflix offers.
Now that Big Media’s 2Q earnings season is over, the big question on Wall Street is: Did it give us any insight into the future? CEOs’ cheery talk about strong ad sales in TV’s upfront market, the expected bump next year from political ads, and the revenues coming in from online streaming services may be irrelevant if the economy sinks into a deep, new recession. CEOs say they see no evidence of trouble yet. The industry’s leading cheerleader, CBS chief Les Moonves, channeled his inner Buzz Lightyear last week saying that he has “every reason to believe that we will deliver strong results throughout the rest of the year, into 2012 and beyond.” Investors still sliced 6.3% off of CBS’ market value. The Dow Jones U.S. Media Index is down about 16% in the last month as traders anticipate cuts in ad spending, ticket buying, subscriptions — the works. If the pessimists are right, then the race is on: Which company will be the first to change its message from “people will buy media because they have cash” to “people will buy media because it helps them to forget their problems”?
Here are other themes from the latest earnings reports:
Jobs: Media companies still aren’t hiring. No one said that so baldly, but it’s there between the lines: CEOs talked more about financial engineering – cutting costs and returning cash to shareholders – than about spending to become more competitive. Time Warner recorded $24M in layoff-related expenses, quadruple the amount from the same quarter last year, while Viacom spent $14M, up from zero last year. Yet virtually every media company is repurchasing shares or increasing its dividend. The message? CEOs can’t persuade investors that the companies know how to make a decent profit from their cash, and shareholders want it back.
Pay TV: This was “the weakest (quarter) in the industry’s history,” says Bernstein Research’s Craig Moffett. Analysts were startled to see the largest cable, satellite, and telco companies collectively lose about 195,000 video customers. The cord cutters don’t fit the stereotype of well-to-do technophiles. Moffett says that “all the evidence” shows that a growing number of people – especially young adults — simply can’t afford pay TV. Dish Network seemed to confirm that thesis by saying that it will shift its marketing focus to upscale consumers instead of bargain hunters. With the U.S. market stalled, it’s easy to see why cable programmers want investors to look at their expansion efforts in growing markets overseas such as India, Russia, China, and Brazil. “It is the current momentum and potential of our international assets that present a meaningful, unique opportunity for us,” Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav told analysts.
Walmart is about to fire a warning shot at Apple’s iTunes: The retail colossus will introduce on Wednesday a way for iPad users to access VUDU’s Web site to buy or rent videos and view them on the tablet. ”We’re committed to offering the VUDU experience on as many devices as possible so customers can shop for and access their favorite movies and TV shows however they want, whenever they want,” says VUDU general manager Edward Lichty. Walmart has a mixed track record in video. Although it’s the leading seller of DVDs, the retail chain failed in an effort to create a Netflix-like mail rental service. It also stumbled in its partnership with Hewlett Packard to offer movie downloads. Walmart bought VUDU in 2010 and has slowly been building it into a service that’s too powerful to ignore. The retailer says that VUDU is available on more than 300 electronics devices including the PlayStation 3, making it the most widely accessible broadband pay-per-view service. Its library includes more than 20,000 movies and TV shows and can be streamed at full 1080p high-definition video quality with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound.
Keep an eye on the retail colossus as the online streaming business takes shape. Walmart wants to be a player, and VUDU — the service it bought in March 2010 — provides a strong foundation. VUDU has more than 20,000 movie titles that consumers can buy online or rent for $2 for two nights. The news this morning is that the company is integrating VUDU into the popular Walmart.com website. But you can be sure that Walmart has bigger plans. Here’s the release:
SANTA CLARA, Calif. and BRISBANE, Calif., July 26, 2011 – Demonstrating its commitment to e-commerce and goal of offering customers “one continuous shopping” channel, Walmart today announced the integration of its popular movie streaming service, VUDU, on Walmart.com. Customers can now shop for thousands of digital VUDU titles, including the hottest new releases, and purchase and/or rent them directly on Walmart.com at www.walmart.com/vudu.
As customers shop for movies at Walmart.com, they now have the option to select the digital VUDU title and/or the physical title (DVD or Blu-ray Disc). Those who select the digital title complete their transaction through Walmart.com’s checkout, and then can easily stream the movie directly from Walmart.com, VUDU.com, or from one of more than 300 VUDU-enabled devices, including select HDTVs, Blu-ray Disc players and the PlayStation®3.
Studios are getting more and more enterprising in promoting their films, online and on store shelves. Universal Pictures launched a retail program with Walmart tied to the Illumination Entertainment film Hop that will include Hop-themed Easter baskets and other holiday themed products.
Lionsgate claims to be the first studio to partner with Groupon. The goal is to sell tickets to the Matthew McConaughey-starrer The Lincoln Lawyer as it rolls out Friday. Groupon, which reaches 60 million online consumers, will sell tickets for $6 during a two-day online promotion. Groupon will also distribute a trailer for the film and an interview with McConaughey.