Wal-Mart Beta-Tests TV, Movie Downloads


Wal-Mart Stores Tuesday debuted a “beta” video-download service with 3,000 movie and TV titles, through which the world’s No. 1 retailer said it will sell movies the same day DVDs are released.

The move puts Wal-Mart, the biggest purveyor of DVDs, in head-to-head competition with Apple’s iTunes and other Internet download services. It also shows that Wal-Mart resolved an issue that was a growing concern for some traditional retailers -- that movie-download services would get better terms from studios on electronic copies of movies than retailers get on DVDs.

Wal-Mart’s video download service will sell TV shows at $1.96 per episode and new and recent movie releases for $12.88-$19.88 each. Catalog movie titles start at $7.50.

The files will play only on Windows PCs and certain portable media players. On its Web site, Wal-Mart said its video files are not compatible with Apple’s iPods, Sony’s PlayStation Portable or Microsoft’s Zune portable media players “due to licensing restrictions.”

“Unfortunately, these hardware providers have chosen not to license their technology to other retailers to enable compatibility with their products,” Wal-Mart’s site said.

Wal-Mart’s videos are available in Microsoft’s Windows Media format, and they require either Windows XP or Vista PCs or a portable media player that supports the Windows Media format. Wal-Mart contracted with Hewlett-Packard to develop the download service.

Movies are available with 640-by-480 maximum resolution and 30 frames per second. TV episodes are “optimized for fast downloads and viewing on the go,” according to the Wal-Mart Web site, available at a 320-by-240 maximum resolution at 30 fps.

Wal-Mart said it secured Internet-distribution rights with cable programmers and broadcasters including Viacom (which will offer shows from Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and The N) and News Corp. (which is providing shows from Fox, Fox Reality, 20th Century Fox Television Classics, The CW and FX).

Wal-Mart also has agreements with “all of the major Hollywood studios,” including 20th Century Fox, Disney, Lionsgate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Warner Bros.

Some of the movies initially available in Wal-Mart’s beta video-download service include 20th Century Fox’s Little Miss Sunshine,Disney/Pixar’s Cars, Paramount’s Mission Impossible: III and Sony Pictures’ The Da Vinci Code.

Wal-Mart noted that it will continue to offer “physical/digital movie bundles” for some movie titles that allow customers who have bought DVDs to optionally download the same title “for a small additional price.” The company provided such an offer last year with Superman Returns.