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.
Representatives of UltraViolet backers Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros joined in the announcement; Disney and Apple do not support UltaViolet. Some of the studios that back the project consider it to still be in the beta phase. Last month Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, one of UltraViolet’s most vocal supporters, said that the entertainment industry “has come to a crossroads. We know consumers want to buy today but they can’t do it with the ease and functionality that they have come to expect. We need to fix that and we should fix it quickly.”