Vudu moves to the front of the VOD line

VOD So the studios apparently have decided to hold hands and all jump together into a 60-day, premium VOD window, much to the dismay of theater owners. It’s an old trick the studios have used in the past, particularly in the early days of the home video business when they were about to do something they knew Wal-Mart or, back in the day Blockbuster, wasn’t going to like, such as move up the pay-per-view window or squeezing the video rental window.

The idea was to minimize the potential backlash against any one studio by an aggrieved buyer by presenting a consistent — if carefully un-colluded — front. In this case, Warner Bros., Sony, Universal and 20th Century Fox have each decided to support an initiative by the cable and satellite industry dubbed Home Premiere, beginning sometime around the end of April. The first titles in the program will be Warner’s “Unknown” and Sony’s “Just Go With It,” and Fox’s “Cedar Rapids.”

As a practical matter, it will be hard for theater owners to boycott movies from all four studios’ movies simultaneously, even if they were inclined.

To me, though, the most notable piece of news in the initial reports is the involvement of Vudu, the over-the-top VOD service owned by Wal-Mart. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Vudu will join Comcast and DirecTV in making the first wave of Home Premiere titles available to consumers.

Unlike Comcast and DirecTV, Vudu has no built-in base of subscribers to market the new service to. So it’s unclear how much near-term upside there is for Wal-Mart.

Perhaps the studios are once again, simply throwing Wal-Mart a bone to keep it from getting its back up over the shortened DVD/Blu-ray window. The more interesting possibility is that Vudu’s involvement at this stage signals a broader ambition on Wal-Mart’s part to begin stitching the ad hoc network of CE devices on which its app or platform is embedded into a more coherent programming service — perhaps even one based on subscriptions.

In any case, Wal-Mart is moving to head of the line in the OTT VOD space.

Further reading:

Theaters, Studios at Odds After Following Report of DirecTV Deal

Hollywood Rolls Out $30 Rentals. Smart