Wal-Mart in exclusive deal to convert DVDs to digital for $2 each
Wal-Mart has unveiled an exclusive arrangement with five of Hollywood's top studios to convert DVD collections into digital copies.
Beginning April 16, consumers will be able to take their DVDs to about 3,500 Wal-Mart stores and have a digital copy stored in the cloud -- a storage system offering access from a broad array of Internet-connected devices -- for $2 each. Customers will have the option to upgrade standard DVDs to high-definition online copies for $5 each.
Wal-Mart -- by far the nation's largest retailer of DVDs -- will be the only store that can offer so-called "disc-to-digital" until its period of exclusivity ends in the fall. The retail giant received exclusive rights from the studios in exchange for an aggressive offer to launch the service first, according to people briefed on the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly.
The news came as part of an event held in Hollywood on Tuesday announcing Wal-Mart's support for UltraViolet, the online movie technology backed by most movie studios and a coalition of technology companies. The previously expected news provides a major boost to UltraViolet, which has had a rocky launch and faces a formidable competitor in Apple's iCloud film service.
As part of the announcement, Wal-Mart's online video store Vudu is now part of UltraViolet and all movies that it sells will be compatible with that service's online cloud, which allows consumers to access films they own from a wide variety of digital devices.
Home entertainment executives from 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. at the event said Wal-Mart's backing was the biggest advance yet for UltraViolet. They were particularly excited about the disc-to-digital option, which they said would acclimate consumers with existing DVD collections to storing their movies online.
Customers can take their DVDs to Wal-Mart photo centers where employees will add digital copies to Vudu accounts. To make sure the same disc is not copied multiple times, store associates will stamp the discs after the conversion is done. They won't accept DVDs rented from outlets such as Redbox, Netflix and Blockbuster.
Not every movie will be available to convert, however, as studios have not yet created digital copies of all their movies. Universal Pictures, for instance, currently has about half of its library of 1,300 titles online.
Studios are hopeful that the Wal-Mart deal will pressure other retailers that don't yet back UltraViolet, including Amazon.com and Best Buy, to jump on board.
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: "Bridesmaids" on the iPad. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times