Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Walmart’s Disc-to-Digital Hard Sell Will Be a Hard Sell

Earlier today, I described Walmart’s new “disc to digital” program as DOA. Maybe I was too harsh.

Let’s assume that some of you are interested in taking your old DVDs to Walmart, and paying up to $5 a disc so you can access the movies on them from Vudu, Walmart’s cloud-based service. Fair enough — different strokes and all of that.

But we’re going to have to shrink the size of this theoretical group a bit. Because Walmart’s new “disc to digital service” won’t work for:

  • People who want to watch Disney or Pixar movies. Disney is working on its own cloud service, and isn’t joining the five other major studios on this one.
  • People who want to download the movies to iPhones and iPads. Users of iOS can stream Vudu movies to their devices, but can’t keep them on their machines.
  • People who want to stream or download their movies on Android phones or tablets. I’m sure there’s a good biz-dev reason that Vudu doesn’t support Google’s OS, because I can’t think of a technical one.

You can download and stream movies to Windows or Mac PCs. Walmart says Vudu will work on “more than 300” devices, but I only count 211 on the service’s Web site, and most of those are Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players.

I guess there are some people who would rather go to Walmart and upload their movies instead of ripping them directly from their DVDs to their PCs, even though it’s very easy. Maybe they are very, very interested in obeying the law, because — weirdly — it’s technically illegal to copy a movie you own, even for personal use.

But I can’t figure out who’s going to use disc-to-digital to watch movies on their TVs, since it’s very likely they already have a machine that plays discs sitting right next to their TVs. (Based on the promotional video Walmart has rolled out, it can’t either. As you can see at the bottom of this post, it’s playing up disc-to-digital’s mobile advantages.)

I’m also pretty skeptical that anyone who doesn’t have kids will have much interest in making digital copies of movies they already own. The reason that Hollywood is working on schemes like this to promote movie ownership is that most people have figured out they’d rather rent. Not because they’re constrained by device compatibility, but because they only want to watch a movie once or twice.

Kids’ movies are the big exception here. I think lots of people would jump through lots of hoops to get copies of kids’ movies on as many devices as possible. But the absence of all those Disney movies, and all those Pixar movies, sure looks like a problem for that pitch.

But I don’t want to end the evening on a negative note! So take a look at Walmart’s video. It’s pleasant enough. And perhaps at some point, Walmart figures out how to rope Disney in, add more devices to its lineup, and actually deliver on the promise sketched out below:

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik