So later today – if not by the time you read this – Walmart will have launched their new Movie and Television download service at www.walmart.com/videodownloads. Mike Arrington of TechCrunch fame has also written about this today and I have to agree with his review of the attempt. Unless Walmart is able to apply the same strong-arm tactics to the studios that they do to consumer products resulting in reduced prices they will likely not dominate this market. While they are the new player on the block, and will benefit from an abundance of in store advertising, they are status quo on a pricing plan. Using a range from $10 to $20. iTunes entered the market last year with a $10 to $15, with new releases fixed at $12.99. Unlike iTunes, Walmart benefits from a larger catalogue to select from. But at these prices you might as well buy the DVD.
First thing that is not apparent is will these downloads be DRMed. A DRM Free video file is what the market demands and will ensure success across many platforms by allowing the customer to choose the way in which the movie or tv show is watched. DRM would cripple a users ability to burn the video to a DVD to watch in the living room, or take to a cabin, on the road with a portable DVD Player. While downloading video is the new wave of content delivery to the home, people still don’t watch movies on their computers. They want to be able to take that video and put it on that new HDTV they bought.
Secondly, the service is limited to Microsoft Windows platforms which effectively shuts out all Mac and Open Source Software users. By limiting the product to windows only I can only assume that the files are DRMed – likely from MPAA pressure – and Walmart will see resistance to the services use as people prefer to use other non restrictive services.
As it stands right now Apples iTunes is the only service that allows multiple platform support (with the exclusion of Open Source Software) and Apple also sells the iPod and AppleTV allowing you to either take the video on the go, or watch it on that new HDTV. From an end to end solution, I believe that Apple is in the lead of the download wars but new players like Walmart, Netflix, and existing players like Amazon and CinieaNow the market place is still wide open. This is good for pricing, but with various DRM technologies in use, portability and usability will become an issue and eventually turn off customers.