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WalMart Video Downloads Shutters

wm video closedAnother casualty of restrictive formatting choices and a lack of portability, Wal-Mart has quietly shuttered its video download store a year after opening it.

A message on the site indicates the service was stopped December 21st.  There was no public death announcement.  HP had previously decided to discontinue the merchant service that powered the Wal-Mart store after determining that their video download merchant store services weren’t performing. Wal-Mart, apparently, drew the same conclusion.  Reports are, they won’t seek a new partner to relaunch the site

Like Virgin’s digital music store, or the similarly now unplugged Sony Connect store, Wal-Mart’s offing was cursed with a format and usage structure that lacked interoperability and restricted how a consumer could enjoy their video downloads.

The service, which was still characterized as a beta test, was built to support the Windows Media Platform, or Wal-Mart’s own video player on a PC.  Movies from the download service had to be watched through the computer.   A customer couldn’t redistribute the feed to their television set, burn it to DVD or move it to a portable device or other machine.   This lack of portability, and its limited convenience, was a significant contributor to the service’s failure.  The rapid pace of change in the Internet video industry also contributed to the downfall.

The Wal-Mart offering was billed as “industry changing.”  They were the first company to partner with all of the major movie studios and TV networks to offer digital downloads on the same day DVDs were newly issues.

Similar efforts to offer movies through the PC have not found success either. Once high profile Movielink had delivered a similarly restricted offer and failed.  Blockbuster eventually bought them for pennies on the dollar earlier this year.

Convenience and ease of use are incredibly important factors influencing consumer’s digital buying decisions.  As has been the case with music, if a retailer doesn’t give a consumer the freedom to use digital content on the platform of their choosing, and make it easy for them to use it, consumer’s will likely find a buyer who will and not waste their time or money with those who won’t. 

The closing of the Digital Download service marks Wal-Mart’s second failure in providing consumer video services.  A few years ago they withdrew from an online DVD rental service that sought to compete with Netflix and Blockbuster.

Wal-Mart’s not alone in struggling to find a working formula in the fast changing environment of Internet video. In November, AOL also withdrew from sellling digital video content. They instead partnered with Amazon’s Unbox service.


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