Walmart recently announced a new service called “Disc-to-Digital”. Starting April 16th, you can bring your DVDs and Blu-rays into Walmart and they will “convert” them into digital copies for a fee. Once converted, they can be streamed from Walmart’s VUDU video streaming service to a number of smartphones, tablets, Blu-ray players, streaming devices and the Playstation3. To see how the service will work, check out the video below. Sounds good, right?
As previously discussed, the winners of the digital video war will be determined by content, convenience and cost. Let’s look at how Walmart does on each count.
The service is fairly comprehensive with content. Most of the major studios are all on-board: Paramount, Sony, Twentieth Centry Fox, Universal and Warner Brothers with Disney being absent. In contrast to this, Apple is still working on getting the rights for iTunes Digital copies from Fox and Universal. iTunes Digital Copies come with select Blu-rays and DVDs.
Convenience and Cost
Walmart describes the service like this: “The freedom to watch your movies any time, any place is here!” However, to enjoy this freedom I have to go into a retail Walmart store. That feels pretty inconvenient. Having to go into the store feels like an attempt at theater. In the age of the Internet, there’s got to be a better way to to have the movies show up in my VUDU account. Walmart will then physically stamp my DVD or Blu-ray so the disc can’t be authorized again. I might give it to my friend who will have pay Walmart a second time. In another words, they don’t trust me. It feels like you are being treated more like a thief than a customer.
Guess what? The people you can’t trust are never going to come into the store and pay for Disc-to-Digital. They will simply download the movie illegally.
I have to pay two dollars to be able to stream a movie I already own? Worse, I have to pay five dollars if I want it to stream in HD. Charging extra to upgrade to an HD copy feels like a missed opportunity to create some good will.
Contrast this with Apple’s approach with iTunes Digital Copy. iTunes Digital Copies are much more customer friendly. All I need to do is enter a code in iTunes and I’m all set to stream or download a digital copy of a movie. I also get iTunes extras if available
and an HD version if available. No tricks to get me to go into the Apple retail store. iTunes Music Match goes even further upgrading any of my iTunes music to a high quality track for a yearly fee.
While not one of the top three criteria, audio and video quality is still important to many consumers. According to Edward Lichty at VUDU, Disc-to-Digital movies will stream in 1080P. So, I can assume that it’s using VUDU’s HDX format which also supplies Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. The audio and video quality of VUDU streaming has been outstanding in my experience. Using VUDU to stream the movies was a good decision given the complexity of UltraViolet. While the announcement made reference to UltraViolet, how all of this will work with it is confusing and probably best left to another post (the link to Dan’s post below goes into that more).
To conclude, Dan Rayburn of Streaming Media analyzing the announcement summed it up quite well:
As a whole, the studios still don’t get it. They aren’t listening to consumers, they haven’t truly changed their way of thinking and their pricing and business models don’t make sense. In reality, a back-end system like UltraViolet that would allow such seamless viewing across all devices still hasn’t been created and it won’t be the studios that make it happen.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the concept of putting my DVD collection in the cloud. I just don’t like the execution of Disc-to-Digital.