Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, is very close to becoming the first large merchant to sign up to adopt UltraViolet, the cloud-video platform, sources with knowledge of the talks told CNET.
Ultraviolet (UV) is a set of standards and specifications designed to make approved movies and TV shows play on a multitude of devices. The technology is supposed to lay the groundwork for the next generation of home-video distribution and be the battering ram that crashes into walled gardens--the efforts by some companies to lock up consumers into watching movies on their devices and their video service.
The plan is to enable users to acquire movies or TV shows, store them on the servers of UV-licensed video services and view them on any one of a multitude of UV-licensed devices. If owners wish to switch video providers, they can conceivably take the rights of their purchased movies with them to a new provider.
Wal-Mart is said to be very interested in offering this kind of flexibility, according to the sources. Wal-Mart execs are trying to make the transition from DVD to digital distribution. Not only did the company acquire Vudu, an online video-on-demand service, last year, but Walmart managers have told DECE counterparts that they like the idea of pitching to their in-store DVD buyers that they are also acquiring cloud rights that will enable them to store and access their movie via the Web.
How easy would it be for Wal-Mart to include a code with a disc sale that enabled users to watch the movie or TV show on Vudu? A Wal-Mart spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
There's still no signed agreement but the talks are said to be in the final stages. If Wal-Mart does sign this would give UV and backers a big boost.
Ultraviolet is backed by a consortium called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) and made up of companies that included five of the six Hollywood studios (Disney did not participate), software and hard makers and other entertainment-interested companies.
DECE had originally planned for retailers to begin rolling out UV-licensed services this summer, but we're staring into October and there's yet to be a major retailer launch a UV service.
The content is certainly being made available. Yesterday, Sony Pictures announced that "The Smurfs" and "Friends With Benefits" would be the first films released by the studio on the UltraViolet platform, according to a story in TheWrap. Previously, Warner Bros. Studios said it would distribute "Green Lantern" on UV later this year.
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Critics have speculated that UV is another way for content owners to lock customers into paying to watch their movies over and over again. They argue that if a movie is on a third party's server, they become the gatekeepers, instead of the owner.
But online video is fluid here in the early stages. Netflix, the Web's top video-rental service, appeared to be running away with the sector but after a series of missteps now appears to be on the defensive. Blockbuster, Amazon, Apple, and Vudu are just some of the services launching new features and offerings as part of a bid to take advantage of Netflix's bad fortune. Ultraviolet could help some of the newer players offer consumers a new twist on home video.