Walmart Bundles Digital Downloads With Physical DVDs

Wal-mart sold an option for a digital download with the purchase of the “Superman Returns” DVD when the movie went on sale today. This is the store’s first foray into the digital movie business.

According to CNN, 40 percent of all DVDs sold in the U.S. are sold at Wal-Mart. But so far, the company has left online movie sales to others. It seemed the big retailers were getting antsy about digital movie stores, particularly in October when the president of Target sent a letter to the movie studios warning that their DVD sales were down and the store could no longer be expected to reserve as much shelf space for physical DVDs if something wasn’t done. Looks like Wal-Mart is taking the if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em solution instead.

We did a review of digital movie download vendors and found several winners. But Wal-Mart’s venture into this space is the first time physical DVD are linked with the “soft copy” of the movie.

When customers buy “Superman Returns” at Wal-Mart, they can choose to pay $1.97 more to play it on portable devices, $2.97 more to play it on PCs or laptops, or $3.97 more to play it on either portable devices or PCs/laptops. But not in iPods. According to the company’s Web site, “The Portable format is optimized for on-the-go viewing using ‘PlayForSure’ portable video players. If played on a PC, the image quality will not be as good as the higher resolution Standard format. These videos are not compatible with Apple iPods. Portable format videos are encoded at a 320 x 240 resolution with an average bit rate of 500 kbps.”

Any movie that is downloaded from Wal-Mart will be stored in a user’s Wal-Mart Video Download Manager as well as their Windows Media Library. Users can only have the movie on one computer at a time, but they can re-register the license on on any number of computers, meaning it is possible to play it on the computer with the license and then move it to another computer only if you move the license. Kind of confusing.

If this is the best Walmart can do, we’ll be filing this under “Failed Movie Download Models” in the near future.