Walmart is ready to enter the streaming wars again. This time in partnership with Paramount.

The the wall street journal reported yesterday that the retail giant has reached an agreement with Paramount Global to offer its streamer, Paramount+, to subscribers of Walmart’s Walmart+ service. The news comes after speculation that Walmart was in talks with Disney, Comcast and Paramount to bolster its membership program which currently offers same-day delivery, gas discounts and more.

Walmart launched Walmart+ in 2020 with a clear goal to stay competitive with Amazon Prime, which has seen explosive growth during the pandemic as consumers doubled down on purchases from home. Now it looks like Walmart wants to replicate Amazon Prime’s success in streaming as well, but perhaps more like a hub that makes it easier for customers to access disparate services with a single sign-on and unified billing rather than to spend billions on original films and series.

However, Walmart has been down this road before before its deal with Paramount – and it’s been a slippery road, of course. The company’s attempts to establish itself more firmly in entertainment have been a 20-year work.


2002-2003: “Until Walmart hits 100,000, they won’t be a threat.”

Walmart, the biggest retailer of virtually every product you can think of, has seen a threat to its DVD sales from Silicon Valley upstart Netflix. Walmart therefore began testing its own online DVD rental service in October 2002 and officially launched the service in June 2003. with us, but work on us,” said then-Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a 2002 Wired characteristic.

To some analysts, Walmart seemed to be in the most attractive position, the world’s number one company by annual revenue, according to the Fortune 500. Netflix had experienced considerable 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 it,” McAlpine Associates analyst Dennis McAlpine said in 2002.

But it was already obvious at the time that Netflix wasn’t worried, given its lead in the space. Netflix spokeswoman Lynn Brinton said in 2003 that she was unsure of Walmart’s subscriber count, but was convinced it was only a fraction of a million. Netflix. “Until Walmart hits 100,000, they won’t be a threat,” she said.

And, indeed, they were not.

2005: “Walmart did not launch into this business with the same dynamism.”

After just two years, Walmart shut down its DVD rental service. According to estimates at the time, Walmart had fewer than 200,000 subscribers, compared to 3 million for Netflix and 750,000 for Blockbuster. “Movie sales have excellent cross-channel integration with [Walmart]but the rental business was less so,” said John Fleming, then-CEO of Walmart.com.

Curiously, the same analyst who said he wouldn’t want to be Netflix “with a 500-pound gorilla chasing him,” told the Washington Post“Walmart didn’t go into this business with the same vigor and vigour.”

Walmart didn’t just pull out of the race; the retail giant actually made a deal with Netflix in which he promised to encourage his customers to switch to Netflix, and in return Netflix would promote Walmart’s online movie store.

2007: not working “as expected”.

In February 2007, Walmart announced a beta version of a movie and TV download service with over 3,000 titles from top movie studios, including Disney, Sony, Universal, and Warner Brothers. “This marks an important milestone for Walmart in the home video space and allows us to better serve our customers as they begin to supplement their DVD purchases with digital video content downloads,” said then-director Kevin Swint. Walmart’s merchandise division for digital media.

It could have been a landmark deal between Hollywood and retail, except that Apple had already beaten Walmart a year earlier by offering movie downloads through iTunes, a natural sequel to the company’s dominance. in music downloads. Walmart retired 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 had discontinued the technology because video downloads were not working “as expected”.

2010: A promise of “unprecedented access” to entertainment

Never discouraged from having their skin in the entertainment game beyond selling equipment and hard copies of DVDs, Walmart acquired the video-on-demand service Vudu in February 2010. Walmart, the first DVD seller of the country at the time, now had access to Vudu’s digital catalog of 20,000 titles.

“Combining Vudu’s unique digital technology and service with Walmart’s retail expertise and scale will provide customers with unprecedented access to home entertainment options,” said Eduardo Castro-Wright, then vice-president. president of Walmart.

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

Vudu and Walmart have decided to enter original content as part of a deal with MGM to create new series based on the studio’s franchises. The partnership was intended to ease the burden of keeping pace with the onslaught of original content from competitors. According to estimates, Netflix produced more than 240 original TV shows and movies in 2018, spending $12 billion in the process. “We’re not going to be a studio,” said Scott Blanksteen, Vudu’s then vice president of products and ad-supported VOD. Variety in 2018. “We’re not going to have 300 or 400 originals.”

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

Around this time, Walmart is also said to be in talks to launch its own streaming service separate from Vudu. In 2018, the the wall street journal reported that former Epix CEO Mark Greenberg was advising Walmart on the move. The retailer’s advantage in the streaming wars would be aimed at Central America, a clear alignment with the company’s demographics and evocative of that cultural moment when shows such as The ConnersABC’s reboot of Roseane, succeeded in attracting an audience.

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

Whatever traction Walmart may have established in the streaming wars, it began to slip in 2020 when rumors began to surface that the retailer was buying its Vudu service. There was talk of selling Vudu to NBCUniversal, but in the end it went to Fandango. A Walmart spokesperson said 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 best positioned to serve our customers today and in the future,” the spokesperson said. “Pickup and delivery are great examples of how we’ve invested in bringing digital and physical capabilities together to better serve our customers, 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 past efforts to establish a stronger foothold in entertainment have been, this might be the retailer’s best bet yet.

In the context of Netflix losing subscribers, adding more utility to a subscription beyond a free trial may be what consumers are looking for. That’s what Amazon already has with Prime (expedited shipping, exclusive shopping events and discounts, etc.) as well as Apple offering an option to bundle Apple TV+ with its other services, including Arcade and Music.

Since the launch of Walmart+ in 2020, the company hasn’t released subscriber numbers, but the company is estimated to have attracted between 11 million and 32 million members. If this is true, a partnership with a streaming service could certainly prove mutually beneficial.

One could make a strong business case for Central America to be an untapped market in Hollywood, making room for a modest slate of Walmart+ Originals. The company definitely has the budget with revenue of $573 billion for fiscal year 2022.

So who knows? Maybe after failed attempts at renting DVDs and digital downloads, selling a streaming service, and crushing their own plans, fifth time is the charm of Walmart?