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Walmart's huge bet on interactive TV with Eko may be the biggest yet

With a reported $250 million investment, Walmart may have just become the world's biggest investor in interactive video.

A screenshot of woman in a video, with icons that viewers can pick to determine what anecdote she uses to impress her roommate.

Eko's interactive videos give viewers the option to pick which way a plot plays out, or lets shoppers pick an outfit to see on a model. 

Eko

The budding world of interactive TV may have just landed its biggest patron yet. And it's... Walmart

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, said Thursday that it'll launch an interactive video joint venture with Eko, a startup with a long track record in the niche format. Walmart is investing $250 million, according to a report by Reuters. Walmart declined to comment on the investment amount.

It could be the most ever invested in the newfangled format. 

So far, the biggest companies to experiment with interactive TV have been Netflix, HBO and, to a lesser extent, Comcast. Netflix introduced interactive episodes last year with children's specials, and it's reportedly widening the feature to adult-oriented fare like Black Mirror later this year. But the streaming company hasn't disclosed how much money it's putting into the effort. 

To put Walmart's $250 million bet in context, HBO developed Mosaic, an interactive murder mystery by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, with the company PodOp last year for $20 million. Even the total investment in Eko itself was $60 million up to now, from companies like MGM Studios, Samsung, Sony Pictures and Intel

Interactive TV is a format that has held promise for years as television migrated to internet-based streaming. For Walmart, it has the potential to unlock futuristic ways to entice shoppers to buy its products. 

Walmart will use the joint venture, named W*E Interactive Ventures, to "deepen relationships with customers and connect with new audiences in innovative ways," according to Scott McCall, the company's executive for entertainment, toys and seasonal products in the US. "By partnering with organizations across the industry to create original, interactive content, we're bringing the next generation of entertainment to customers and delivering memorable experiences they can only find at Walmart," he said in a statement.

W*E Interactive Ventures will be led by Yoni Bloch, the CEO of Eko, and it'll have input from big names in media. Jane Rosenthal, a film producer who co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival, will serve as strategic adviser. Nancy Tellem, chief media officer and executive chairman at Eko and a former executive at CBS and Microsoft, will be on the joint venture's board. 

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