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Wal-Mart and Hollywood Partner to Save the DVD Business, but Is It Too Late?

Today Paramount, Sony, Warner Brothers, Fox, and Universal, along with Wal-Mart, unveiled a service to allow consumers to access their DVD library wherever they are, from whatever gadget they happen to have, through Ultraviolet, the studios struggling digital locker system. Wal-Mart is launchinga disk-to-digital service, aiming to drive adoption of Ultraviolet, and DVD purchases, rather than lower-margin rentals, and to prevent piracy.

vudu.com
Source: vudu.com
vudu.com

Billions of dollars are at stake for the studios as well as the nation’s largest DVD retailer. DVD and Blu-Ray sales declined 10 percent last year to $9 billion, and that’s a 36 percent decline from the industry’s 2004 peak, according to IHS Screen Digest. Wal-Mart wants to make money on the ten billion DVDs and Blu-Rays U.S. customers already own. And the studios want to make owning DVDs a valuable proposition, so people will keep buying them, instead of switching to a streaming-on-demand world.

Here’s how Wal-Mart’s new system will work.

Consumers can bring in their DVDs to the photo counter at 3,500 Wal-Mart stores.

The retailer will charge $2 to register them, or $5 to register and upgrade standard DVDs into a high def format. (This may be a selling point for people with new HD gadgets). Wal-Mart will help customers create Ultraviolet accounts, so they can access their libraries through the cloud, through Vudu, Wal-Mart’s digital locker and video player.

But will this sell new discs?

BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield is skeptical, writing: “We still believe it would be extremely difficult to encourage consumers to buy movies in the future.” And putting aside the prospect of new DVD purchases which come with digital access, it remains to be seen whether people will be willing to cart their DVDs into Wal-Mart in order to access them from the cloud. For Ultra-Violet to become truly mainstream, it seems it’ll need to be adopted from the moment a consumer pays for a DVD at checkout, not just at Wal-Mart, but at any retailer.

(*Note: Comcast is the parent company of both CNBC and NBCUniversal)

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.