Vudu is offering a brick-and-mortar purchase option for its digital movies.
Starting Tuesday, Wal-Mart customers will be able to buy a voucher card for a Vudu digital download. Once they get home, plugging the scratch-off code into any Vudu-compatible streaming device will allow them to stream the movie at their leisure. (Compatible devices include the PlayStation 3, any PC or Mac, and many TVs and Blu-ray players.)
Because it's a purchase, not a rental, viewers can re-stream the movie ad infinitum. Currently, only the standard-def streaming version (not the HD version) will be sold at retail. (HD and "HDX" versions of some titles are available via Vudu's online interface for an additional charge, usually $19.99; it's unclear if the HD/HDX versions of films will be made available at retail.)
The debut title is "Battle: Los Angeles," which is being sold for $14.96. By comparison, Wal-Mart is selling the DVD of the same film for $16.96, the HD Blu-ray for $19.96, and the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack for $24.96. The prices appear nearly equivalent on Amazon, including the Amazon Instant (streaming) version for $14.99.
Such "point of sale" vouchers are already common for digital downloads in the gaming arena, where consumers can buy downloadable add-ons, full games, or simply online credit (e.g., Microsoft Points, Wii Points, PlayStation Network credits). Vudu--which has been a division of Wal-Mart since the mega-retailer--already offers other retail/digital tie-ins, such as $5 Vudu credits with some DVD/Blu-ray purchases and free digital Vudu "ownership" with the purchase of disc-based movies such as "Black Swan."
Digital savvy consumers may ask, "What's the point?" Indeed, for many of us, the whole idea of digital streaming is the convenience of not having to drive to a store to begin with. While that's certainly true, Wal-Mart doesn't want its lucrative stores to go away, so--unlike an online-only retailer such as Amazon--it's experimenting on the best way to take advantage of online and offline storefronts.
One possible advantage we see: the in-store purchase could allow those without credit cards to purchase digital content. That said, we'd like to see Wal-Mart and Vudu work to ensure that HD purchase options are standard (if the content provider is offering HD versions online, that is).
What do you think: Would you buy a digital voucher in-store, or do you prefer to buy your digital products online? Let us know in the comments below.