Wal-Mart has unveiled an exclusive arrangement with five of Hollywood's top studios to convert DVD collections into digital copies.
Beginning April 16, consumers will be able to take their DVDs to about 3,500 Wal-Mart stores and have a digital copy stored in the cloud -- a storage system offering access from a broad array of Internet-connected devices -- for $2 each. Customers will have the option to upgrade standard DVDs to high-definition online copies for $5 each.
Wal-Mart -- by far the nation's largest retailer of DVDs -- will be the only store that can offer so-called "disc-to-digital" until its period of exclusivity ends in the fall. The retail giant received exclusive rights from the studios in exchange for an aggressive offer to launch the service first, according to people briefed on the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly.
The news came as part of an event held in Hollywood on Tuesday announcing Wal-Mart's support for UltraViolet, the online movie technology backed by most movie studios and a coalition of technology companies. The previously expected news provides a major boost to UltraViolet, which has had a rocky launch and faces a formidable competitor in Apple's iCloud film service.
As part of the announcement, Wal-Mart's online video store Vudu is now part of UltraViolet and all movies that it sells will be compatible with that service's online cloud, which allows consumers to access films they own from a wide variety of digital devices.
Home entertainment executives from 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. at the event said Wal-Mart's backing was the biggest advance yet for UltraViolet. They were particularly excited about the disc-to-digital option, which they said would acclimate consumers with existing DVD collections to storing their movies online.
Customers can take their DVDs to Wal-Mart photo centers where employees will add digital copies to Vudu accounts. To make sure the same disc is not copied multiple times, store associates will stamp the discs after the conversion is done. They won't accept DVDs rented from outlets such as Redbox, Netflix and Blockbuster.
Not every movie will be available to convert, however, as studios have not yet created digital copies of all their movies. Universal Pictures, for instance, currently has about half of its library of 1,300 titles online.
Studios are hopeful that the Wal-Mart deal will pressure other retailers that don't yet back UltraViolet, including Amazon.com and Best Buy, to jump on board.
Walmart is a non-union corporation that has historically actively fought against unions and pushed vendors to take their companies overseas.
Daily Dose: Normally, when an action movie opens to $30 million at the box office, cable networks are lining up to buy the rights to it. But when that movie is Walt Disney Co.'s "John Carter," it's a different story. Don't look for TNT, FX, USA and the other usual suspects to whip out their checkbooks this week to buy the rights. Disney will likely have to find a way to package "John Carter" with some more successful films as part of a group deal. The film may be the biggest bust of all time for Hollywood. The studio anticipated a larger adult fantasy adventure audience, and some say, miscast or mis-imagined the leads.
"John Carter" blame game. With Disney's "John Carter" turning into the 21st century's "Ishtar," there is lots of finger-pointing going on in Hollywood over who should take the heat for putting this turkey in the oven. In this case, it seems like it was a team effort. Although a previous administration initially greenlighted the movie, the current team at Walt Disney Studios had two years to turn the project into something and didn't. Perhaps the plug should have been pulled, but the movie was a passion project for a very important director. The back story from the Los Angeles Times.
Steven Schirripa, left, and Dominic Chianese on "The Sopranos."
(Barry Wetcher, HBO / March 12, 2012)
When Characters Get Whacked. The courtroom battle between former "Desperate Housewives" costar Nicollette Sheridan and the show's creator, Marc Cherry, over the circumstances of her character's demise is another reminder that for an actor, the only thing worse than not getting a part on a show is getting killed off a show.
"It's a one-way contract, they can drop you at any time," said Steve Schirripa, who spent seven years nervously pawing through the pages of scripts for "The Sopranos" wondering if this was the episode where his character would get whacked.
Producers tend to try to keep the lid on such dramatic events so stories don't leak out to the gossip pages and the actors don't subconsciously alter their performances knowing the end is near. Schirripa, who played Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri on the HBO series — bodyguard to Tony Soprano's Uncle Junior — got the word he was on the way out only 10 days before the episode was scheduled to shoot.
A look at why some TV characters get whacked. It's not always about the plot.
Wall Street Journal, is computer giant Intel, which has been meeting with programmers to discuss building a system that would deliver content via the Internet.
The problem is that no matter the delivery system, the cost of content is the challenge.
Intel, according to the WSJ, has been talking about offering fewer channels. But programmers won't likely play ball with that. Disney, Viacom, News Corp., NBCUniversal and Discovery own lots of channels and generally don't let distributors cherry-pick the ones they want. If they do that for Intel, every other cable and satellite operator will be knocking on the door demanding the same treatment.
Never too early to start campaigning. The 2012 Oscars are still fresh in our brains, but that's not stopping some from already trying to figure out who will have the edge for next year's show. USA Today looks at the very early front-runners, a list that includes Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" and Leonardo DiCaprio's "The Great Gatsby." Even Bill Murray could be in the running with his portrayal of Franklin Roosevelt in "Hyde Park on Hudson."
"Hunger Games" goes on diet. Lionsgate had to snip seven seconds from "The Hunger Games" in order to get a rating in Britain that would allow more pre-teens to see the movie, which does have some violence in it. The U.S. version was not required to make any cuts for its PG-13 rating. Details from Variety.
Hallmark moment? After striking out with Martha Stewart, the Hallmark Channel is going back to its roots by offering more feel-good movies and family-friendly reruns. However, fixing programming is only half the battle for Hallmark and its parent, Crown Media. Crown stock has languished for several years, leading to some pretty unhappy shareholders. A look at Hallmark's plans to revitalize itself from the Los Angeles Times.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: Everything you needed to know about the "Desperate Housewives" trial.
-- Joe Flint
Follow me on Twitter and I'll help you with your March Madness picks. Twitter.com/JBFlint
Photo: Rebekah Brooks. Credit: Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images