Vudu jumps to iPad, expands distribution

Wal-Mart is boosting the number of devices through which Vudu users can access the service, and execs there say that Netflix isn't the competition.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read
Vudu decided to offer a browser-based iPad feature rather than an app. This way, the company doesn't have to pay Apple's subscription fees. Greg Sandoval

NEW YORK--Vudu is making itself available on iPad, a move that will help the streaming-video service expand distribution and keep pace with market leader Netflix.

Vudu said in a joint statement with parent company and retailing powerhouse Wal-Mart Stores that beginning tomorrow iPad owners can access Vudu through their browsers. That's right, this is not an app, so don't look for Vudu in Apple's App store.

Wal-Mart and Vudu said they have created a new "navigation experience" for iPad users who visit the service online. Through the new feature, iPad owners can rent or purchase one of Vudu's 20,000 movies and TV shows. Renting or purchasing Vudu's videos via the iPad works the same as it does on a PC and the prices are the same. One problem with Vudu, as with Netflix and all streaming-video services, is that you can't watch if you can't connect to the Web. No taking the video with you on airplanes or on the subway.

Another issue is that Vudu hasn't secured licenses to offer Disney films on the iPad.

Offering a browser experience helps Wal-Mart avoid paying the 30 percent cut that Apple charges publishers of apps that offer content, such as video, music, and magazines.

The new feature is the latest way Wal-Mart is expanding the number of methods through which users can access Vudu. Edward Lichty, Vudu's general manager, said in an interview that Vudu is now compatible with more than 300 devices, including the PlayStation 3 video game console, Web-connected TVs, and Blu-ray players.

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That could help, considering that Netflix, the top streaming-video subscription service on the Web, is off to a massive lead in terms of the number of devices that enable users to watch the company's Web video streams on their home TV sets. Offering ubiquitous access is one of the ways Netflix was able to jump out to such a big lead.

Lichty said that the Web-video market is so new and is growing so fast that there's plenty of room for both Netflix, a subscription service, and Vudu, which rents and sells movies on a per-title basis.

"Most of our customers are also Netflix customers," Lichty said. "The preponderance of our consumption are titles that Netflix does not stream. And they won't stream. I think it's unlikely that new-release home video window is going to become available for subscription."

Ed Lichty, Vudu's general manager, says that the service can coexist with Netflix, adding that many Vudu visitors use it to supplement Netflix's streaming library.
Ed Lichty, Vudu's general manager, says that the service can coexist with Netflix, adding that many Vudu visitors use it to supplement Netflix's streaming library. Greg Sandoval/CNET

That's a nice way of saying that Netflix's streaming service can't offer most of the newest and hottest titles and Vudu can.

Wal-Mart, known for its warehouse-like stores, wood pallets, and bulk buying has earned a lackluster record in online retailing. Late in the day it was reported by Digital Music News that the merchant had informed partners it would close its much ignored MP3 music download store, which was opened in 2003. That same year, Wal-Mart tried competing with Netflix and played the part of Goliath to Netflix's David.

In that case, Walmart tried to build a rival DVD-by-mail business but shut it down after only a couple of years.

What Wal-Mart says is different this time is Vudu, which the merchant acquired 18 months ago. Vudu began as a struggling set-top box maker that morphed into a software company that helped connect TVs to the Web. Wal-Mart will promote Vudu's iPad feature through its stores and the many other ways the retailer connects with consumers. Wal-Mart certainly has the size and war chest to carry on the fight against Netflix.

For the 2011 fiscal year which ended January 31, Wal-Mart generated $421 billion in revenue. For all of 2010, Netflix generated $2.1 billion in total revenue.

Update August 10 at 3:44 a.m. PT: Added news on shuttering of Wal-Mart's MP3 store.