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The timeline of Walmart’s 20-year quest to break into Hollywood

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Walmart is poised to enter the streaming wars again. This time in collaboration with Paramount.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the retail giant has signed a deal with Paramount Global to offer its streamer, Paramount+, to subscribers of Walmart’s service Walmart+. The news is coming after speculation that Walmart was in talks with Disney, Comcast and Paramount to bolster its membership program that currently offers same-day delivery, discounts on gasoline, and so on.

Walmart launched Walmart+ in 2020 in a clear effort to stay competitive with Amazon Prime, which has seen explosive growth during the pandemic as consumers shopped more at home. Now it looks like Walmart is also looking to replicate Amazon Prime’s streaming success, but perhaps more as a hub that makes it easier for customers to access disparate services with a single sign-on and unified billing instead of billions. to spend on original films and series.

However, Walmart has been down this road before before the Paramount deal — and it was a slippery road for sure. The company’s efforts to gain a firmer foothold in the entertainment world have been arduous for twenty years.


2002-2003: “Until Walmart Hits 100,000 They Won’t Be a Threat.”

Walmart, the top seller of virtually every product you can imagine, saw a threat to the DVD sales of Silicon Valley startup Netflix. So Walmart began testing its own online DVD rental service in October 2002 and officially launched the service in June 2003. “A year and a half ago, we found out that Walmart.com doesn’t want to work. of us, but work On us,” said then-Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a 2002 wired feature.

To some analysts, Walmart appeared to be in the most attractive position, the number one company in the world by annual sales, according to the Fortune 500. Netflix had experienced significant growth at the time – the company went public in May 2002 – but was only five years old. “I wouldn’t want to be Netflix with a 500-pound gorilla chasing him,” said Dennis McAlpine, an analyst at McAlpine Associates, in 2002.

But it was clear by then that Netflix wasn’t worried, given its lead in space. Lynn Brinton, a Netflix spokesperson, said in 2003 that she wasn’t sure how many subscribers Walmart had, but she was convinced it was only a fraction of Netflix’s 1 million. “Until Walmart hits 100,000, they won’t pose a threat,” she said.

And indeed, they weren’t.

2005: “Walmart didn’t step into this industry with the same vim and strength.”

After just two years, Walmart stopped its DVD rental service. According to estimates at the time, Walmart had fewer than 200,000 subscribers, compared to Netflix’s 3 million and Blockbuster’s 750,000. “Selling Movies has great cross-channel integration with [Walmart]but the rental was that less,” said then Walmart.com CEO John Fleming.

Funnily enough, the same analyst who said he wouldn’t want to be Netflix “with a 500-pound gorilla chasing him,” told the Washington Post“Walmart has not stepped into this business with the same vim and strength.”

Walmart didn’t just bow out of the race; the retail giant has actually struck a deal of Netflix in which it promised to encourage its customers to switch to Netflix, and in return, Netflix would promote Walmart’s online movie store.

2007: Does not perform “as expected”.

In February 2007, Walmart announced a beta of a movie-and-TV download service featuring more than 3,000 titles from the top movie studios, including Disney, Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers. “This is an important step for Walmart in the home video space and will enable us to better serve our customers as they begin to supplement their DVD purchases with digital video content downloads,” said Kevin Swint, then department manager Walmart digital media merchandise.

This could have been a milestone between Hollywood and retail, aside from Apple beating Walmart a year earlier by offering movie downloads through iTunes, a natural continuation of the company’s dominance in music downloads. Walmart shut down its download service after less than a year. The site was powered by Hewlett-Packard and a company spokesperson told Reuters in 2007 that they discontinued the technology because video downloads were not performing “as expected.”

2010: A Promise of “Unprecedented Access” to Entertainment

Never afraid to have skin in the entertainment game other than selling equipment and hard copies of DVDs, Walmart acquired its video-on-demand service Vudu in February 2010. digital catalog of 20,000 titles.

“By combining Vudu’s unique digital technology and service with Walmart’s retail expertise and scale, customers will gain unprecedented access to home entertainment options,” said Walmart’s then vice chairman. Eduardo Castro Wright.

2018-2019: “We are not going to be a studio.”

Vudu and Walmart decided to use original content under a deal with MGM to create new series based on the studio’s franchises. The partnership was intended to ease the burden of tracking the onslaught of competitors’ original content. According to estimates, Netflix pumped out more than 240 original TV shows and movies in 2018, spending $12 billion in the process. “We’re not going to be a studio,” Scott Blanksteen, Vudu’s then VP of product and ad-supported VOD, told me. Variety in 2018. “We’re not going to have 300 or 400 originals.”

Walmart’s more modest approach to original content became more apparent during 2019’s NewFronts, the digital media world’s event to showcase advertisers’ upcoming video content, when it was announced that it would have at least 12 original series and specials on Vudu by the end of the year. would fund. Julian Franco, Vudu’s senior director at the time, also hinted at shoppable programming and other “interactive content” powered by Eko, an interactive media company that Walmart acquired in 2018.

Around this time, Walmart would also be in talks to launch its own streaming service, separate from Vudu. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that former Epix CEO Mark Greenberg advised Walmart on the move. The retailer’s lead in the streaming wars would focus on Central America, a clear alignment with the company’s demographics and evocative of that cultural moment when shows like The ConnersABC’s reboot of roseanne, were seeing good luck in attracting audiences.

2020: “We continue to invest in areas where we have the greatest strength. . .”

Whatever traction Walmart had in the streaming wars began to slip in 2020 when rumors surfaced that the retailer was shopping its Vudu service. There were talks to sell Vudu to NBCUniversal, but in the end it went to Fandango. A Walmart spokesperson told: The street the sale was intended to prioritize Walmart’s core retail assets.

“We will continue to invest in areas where we have the greatest strength and are in the best position to serve our customers today and in the future,” the spokesperson said. “Pickup and delivery are great examples of how we’ve invested to bring digital and physical capabilities together to better serve our customers by providing more choice and convenience.”


So that brings us to the here and now of Walmart’s return to streaming hand-in-hand with Paramount. As troubled as Walmart’s previous efforts to gain a stronger foothold in entertainment, this may be the retailer’s best bet yet.

Against the backdrop of Netflix losing subscribers, adding more utility to a subscription than a free trial might be what consumers are looking for. It’s all Amazon has with Prime (expedited shipping, exclusive shopping events and discounts, and so on) and Apple offers an option to bundle Apple TV+ with its other services, including Arcade and Music.

Since the launch of Walmart+ in 2020, the company has not released subscriber numbers, but it’s estimated that the company has attracted between 11 and 32 million members. If this is true, partnering with a streaming service can certainly be mutually beneficial.

You could make a strong business case for Central America as an untapped market in Hollywood, leaving room for a modest number of Walmart+ originals. The company certainly has the budget with fiscal 2022 revenue of $573 billion.

So who knows? Perhaps after failed attempts to rent DVDs and digital downloads, sell a streaming service and crush their own plans, is the fifth time the charm for Walmart?

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