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Walmart Helps Customer Take Disc-To-Digital Plunge

On April 16 Walmart begins its new disc-to-digital program that will offer customers at more than 3,500 stores across the country the chance to bring in their old and new DVDs and Blu-ray Discs to register for Cloud-based digital copies. These digital copies can then be accessed from a wide variety of connected devices.

But a recent overview for the East Coast press at an outlet in North Bergen, N.J. showed the retail giant will have its work cut out trying to get the message through to average consumers at all 3,500 locations. In-store signage, while prominently positioned at the entrance of the store and in the DVD department, tends to blend in with the surroundings, mentions little but the name of the program, or looks more like standard DVD movie ads to inattentive passersby in the DVD department.

A sign over the registration desk reads simply: “Walmart Entertainment powered by Vudu” with an UltraViolet logo at the bottom.

The disc-registration desk in this particular location was buried in the photo-printing services area next to a warehouse pickup storage door — not exactly prominently positioned in the DVD section where you might expect to find it.

A Walmart spokesperson assured that the signage will tie in with an advertising campaign that will begin shortly to help better explain the service and system to consumers.

In advance of the launch, the company offered interested reporters the chance to try out the disc-registration process.

The procedure itself was relatively painless, though the process does take several minutes per disc, which we can see leading to long lines on busy weekends if Walmart’s planned ad campaign is at all successful at getting customers to try it out.

A representative said spillover can be accommodated through a computer terminal in the wireless services area.

Consumers who bring their discs in are asked to fill out a form listing titles, whether it’s a DVD or a Blu-ray, and whether they would like a standard-definition or high-def version of their content.

A specially trained clerk must inspect each title to ensure it is available in the program, and then goes online through a computer terminal to unlock either a standard-definition or high-def version through the person’s Vudu account.

The benefit of all this (for a small fee) is to get a digital copy of a movie you already bought residing in the Cloud so you can access it anytime from a number of connected playback devices, ranging from Blu-ray players, smart TVs and set-top boxes, to iPhones, iPads and other Vudu-enabled products. Sorry, no support for Android-based phones or tablets at this time.

At launch, the program lists more than 4,000 eligible movies (a full list is available on from five major studios. Shoppers must pay a $2 fee for a streamable standard-definition digital file or $5 to get a standard-definition DVD upgraded to an HD digital version.

High-def Blu-ray Discs can also be registered for $2 to get an HD digital copy. High-def copies can be played back over Vudu in either 720p or 1080p resolution, depending on available bandwidth. If you use a home Wi-Fi system or get your broadband Internet over a crowded cable service, bandwidth could be an issue. In such cases, the HD stream may be automatically stepped down to standard definition during constricted periods to prevent interruption of playback.

This is something to consider before paying for the $5 upgrade.

The “unlocked” digital versions of the movies in the cloud can be played back through Walmart’s Vudu online movie-streaming service. This requires registering (for free with no monthly subscription). Disc registrations are also administered through the UltraViolet initiative orchestrated by most of the leading Hollywood studios through an organization called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE).

When using some Vudu-enabled devices, like Sony’s PlayStation3, for example, users may also be required to register for a free UltraViolet account and then go to the Vudu site to link the Vudu account with the UltraViolet account. This can be both a confusing and irritating extra step.

Fortunately, when consumers bring their qualifying DVD or Blu-ray Discs into the store, Walmart clerks can help them sign up for a Vudu account if they don’t already have one as well as register the disc title under the user’s name. How the extra UltraViolet linking procedure transpires in the store remains to be seen. Walmart wasn’t providing the ability until the April 16 launch date.

Qualifying discs must have been purchased (not rented or copied) and appear on a list of eligible movie titles on the Vudu site. The list of 4,000 movies will grow continuously, Walmart assured. A few top studios like Disney also aren’t a party to the UltraViolet initiative and their movies won’t be eligible. Fox movies are or will be, but it is holding additional titles until a few bugs are worked out.

Walmart clerks will check each disc to make sure it wasn’t borrowed from another disc-to-digital user or rented. Once a disc has been registered in the Walmart store, a clerk stamps the ring around the center hole to indicate it cannot be registered again.

Warning: If you ever plan to sell your old DVDs or Blu-ray Discs at a yard sale or on eBay, this may affect its resale value.

Wal-Mart’s category director for movies, Louis Greth, told TWICE via a phone interview from the New Jersey disc-to-digital site that Walmart would begin national TV advertising for the program on April 16 and will be working with a number of studios in getting the word out to the public.

Greth said Walmart sees the disc-to-digital initiative both as a driver of foot traffic into the store and as a recruitment tool for the company’s Vudu online movie rental and purchase service.

He said that Walmart is not concerned about any cannibalization in its disc business from the service, adding that disc-to-digital should help generate more business as many consumers take the first step into streaming movies at home, where Walmart gets a powerful foot in the door with a high quality and easy to use streaming service.

The initiative also should engender goodwill among some customers who can continue to enjoy movies they’ve already purchased on multiple playback devices well into the future for only a nominal registration fee, but only if they can get the word out.