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Can Walmart Compete (in Streaming Video)?

Can Walmart Compete (in Streaming Video)?

Ordinary Times regular contributors Mark Kruger and Andrew Donaldson enjoy bantering on Twitter (if you aren’t already following, their handles are @musepolsci and @four4thefire, respectively.) Recently, they butted heads over a story in Fortune about Walmart’s intention to launch an on-line streaming video service. Andrew contends that Walmart cannot gain a foothold in a crowded field; Mark contends they have a shot at success. Rather than come to blows or send mean spirited memes at each other featuring Darth Vader and Scarlett Johansson locked in a death match (“I call Scarlet – don’t judge me,”- Mark), they have written opinion pieces laying out each of their views. Enjoy, and leave your take in the comments.

Mark’s Thesis

Walmart will compete in the streaming marketplace because they can take advantage of a chaotic customer and content landscape, they have clout with their customer base, and they have the chops for the engineering side of the effort.

Smiley Guy Success

Why does Walmart have a chance to succeed? First, the “pay to play” reason – resources. They have more money than a small country and their core business is recession resistant. They can purchase content and studios (they already own “Vudu”), run marketing campaigns to almost any scale, and build out infrastructure to meet any level of foreseeable demand. Investing a few billion in a streaming service will not appreciably affect the bottom line. But of course, money is the only the first barrier. What else is in play?

The Loyalty Landscape is Shifting

The story clearly pits Walmart against NetFlix and Amazon, but that is a shallow view of the consumer and runs behind the behavior of the public. This isn’t toothpaste. The choice is not either Netflix or Walmart; it’s Netflix and Walmart. Streaming has no cable hookup or dish to tune – no hardware barriers that force the consumer to choose. The vicious competition in pricing, and the ubiquity of screens has made it possible for consumers to be very fickle with streaming content. They flit in and out of various subscriptions like five year-olds deciding on ice cream flavors.

Unconvinced? This Forbe’s article shows that 43% of Netflix subscribers are also Amazon subscribers. 29% of US streaming consumers have used more than five streaming video services in the past 12 months. Indeed, only 17% (less than 1 in 5!) have stuck it out with only one service. And this especially makes sense once you abandon cable. I pay more than $200 per month for my cable service (again, don’t judge me). If I were prone to give up cable, I could save money and still subscribe to 4 or 5 (or more) video services. And when Westworld or Game of Thrones is over, I can drop HBO GO until the next time sexy robot dragons hit the screen.

The landscape is jumbled in other ways as well. Services like Sling, Roku, PS Vue, and YouTube are using “live tv” as a model (Netflix also has a service like this) rather than just libraries of shows and movies. Sports Networks, too, provide on-line options divorced from other content platforms. These services are really different things altogether. I’m not giving up my MLB.tv subscription just because Netflix has Bull Durham. Yet these services tend to get lumped together in our competition matrix. Walmart will find exploitable cracks in such a Wild West landscape.

Certainly I think they will have no problem getting folks to try it, given their competitive pricing. Do I think they will compete with Netflix directly from the start? Possibly – but it’s a long row to hoe. Netflix is the ubiquitous “general content” platform. Many people using or trying more than one service still have Netflix as a baseline. Switching is driven by content and price, but Netflix is the king of the “general” platform because they have the largest library and they are producing the most shows. They are also ahead on 4k content, meaning early adopters will stick with them. Meanwhile Starz, HBO, Hulu, Amazon, CBS, TBS et al are all working around the edges to carve out a bigger share without bleeding that revenue to Netflix. The content landscape is like the early days of cable as channels proliferated. It’s chaotic, it’s jumbled, and the barriers to entry are in flux. Chaos always means opportunity.

The Walmart Customer

There is also a customer story here. Walmart is a trusted brand to millions of people. This might rub some people the wrong way. There are arguments against the Walmart model based on labor and the preservation of a certain kind of retail. There’s a stereotype (mostly unfair) of Walmart shoppers as well. The fact remains that Walmart is the center of commerce and services for a huge swath of people who depend on low prices and broad inventory. People eat, get their car repaired, buy food, clothing, electronics, housewares, cosmetics and drugs – all in one place. On the way home they can do their banking, buy prescription glasses, get a hair cut and take home a roasted chicken, and all at low prices.

Folks who depend on Walmart may be enthusiastic about a Walmart streaming service – and Walmart will hasten to make it easy. They will likely provide non-traditional in-house payment options for example. This opens a demographic to Walmart streaming that may be missed by other services. They also have an opportunity to tailor content to folks who are under-served by Hollywood studios. If you are scratching your head at that comment, trust me, Walmart knows exactly what I mean.

Engineering Project

Finally, does a retailer have the engineering chops to pull this off? Walmart is a company with extremely low price points that achieves very high margins for a retailer. It does this in part by muscling suppliers into cutting their own margins to the bone. But it also takes advantage of one of the world’s most sophisticated inventory management systems. It’s a marvel of engineering rivaling NASA. Indeed, in spite of the “brick and mortar” nature of Walmart you might think of it as an inventory management company rather than a retailer. Having the right amount of everything on hand in all of its 11,000+ stores is its genius – and  the company does it astonishingly well.

While it may not seem like this translates into something as fuzzy-headed as building a virtual streaming platform, the truth is that streaming is a project scale problem – and Walmart knows about scale. They can handle a project of this size and, in my view, they will come up with some surprising innovations along the way.

For these reasons, I think Walmart streaming has a shot to compete. Now if you will excuse me, I have to eat this corn dog while this lady cuts my hair. You can’t get this kind of service at Whole Foods!

Andrew’s Thesis

Walmart will not be successful in competing in the streaming marketplace. The retail giant will be entering a market that is at near saturation, with no clear path to original content that would set it apart. Walmart is spending time, money, and energy on a windmill tilt when it should be focusing on the fundamentals of its core retail business, not competing with streamers that are in their element with digital content.

Walmart is entering a saturated marketplace

Let me qualify “not successful” as the idea of mounting a serious competitive challenge to Netflix and Amazon. The management in Bentonville and their engineering and data systems folks in Silicon Valley are too good for a total failure on the level of New Coke. But those lofty ambitions of streaming dominance should be tempered. Walmart finds itself entering a very crowded field, all vying for the same entertainment dollars.

Current reporting is that the new streaming service will be a part of-or a relaunch of-Walmart’s current Vudu service. Walmart has had success with the Vudu platform, which was designed as a “digital video library”, an online version of the old movie rental stores or Red Box. One of the features is allowing customers to convert their DVDs and Blu-rays to their digital shelf for a fee. But it is unclear how this current model will be folded, rebranded, or retooled into a streaming service.

The key to streaming service is content. Vudu transforming from an online Red Box and rising as a Netflix competitor depends on its ability to offer content, but where that content comes from is unclear. Hulu has ABC, NBC, and Fox locked up either by affiliation or contract, CBS is investing heavily in its CBS All-Access, and other networks such as Disney and their sports wing ESPN are looking at their own over-the-top services. Original content is the answer other streaming services have turned to. Amazon is spending $5 billion on original content, and Netflix may be spending as much as $13 Billion. To put that in a bit of perspective, if Walmart wanted to go that route, their reported free cash flow is $18 Billion. The money is there, but is the content for purchase, and for what price? It would be a huge investment with a long run before returning profit, a problem Netflix currently is working through. There might be an opening for the family friendly and faith-based programing that is rumored and would be on brand with Walmart’s core demographics, but that too would take considerable investment.

Also, we’ve seen this movie before. Back when Netflix was still moving DVD’s by mail, they had an ill-fated venture with Walmart, and it failed for reasons that sound all too familiar to the current situation, though written in the Washington Post in 2005:

It carried about half as many titles as Netflix and Blockbuster, and despite its claim of “always low prices,” Blockbuster offered cheaper subscriptions.

“Wal-Mart did not get into this business with the same vim and vigor” as its competitors, said industry analyst Dennis B. McAlpine of McAlpine Associates.

Compounding its also-ran status in the new business, Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart found that its online rentals failed to translate into more frequent trips to the store — a key part of Wal-Mart’s push into other online businesses.

Not as much of an offering, not focused, and didn’t increase store sales: ominous warnings that should be heeded. There is an argument to be made that a loyal customer base is a factor to consider, but even this is limited. Walmart needs more than just current shoppers to make its streaming foray competitive. For example, streaming just this past week overtook paid TV in the UK. Netflix, Amazon, and others have a presence there while Walmart does not. They can perhaps make money only on US domestic subscribers, but that will not help against competition that is already global.

Walmart is innovating outward when they need to renovate inwardly

Jeff Bezos has said from the beginning that Amazon is not a retail website; it’s a logistics company. What he first did with books, has now spread to just about anything you can think of being available at Amazon. Amazon Prime and the digital streaming content is part of the larger Amazon eco-system.

So, what does logistics have to with streaming video content? Everything, because logistics is where Walmart’s money is made. “The money is in the margins,” has been their profit model for nearly 50 years and to great success. When you take transportation and logistics college courses, it is the Walmart system that is taught as the standard.

But the logistics system that made them number one is now a hindrance to their online ambitions. The board and shareholders are going to have a short tolerance for the shiny new toy if it is seen as disruptive to the core business. Over the holiday period, the life blood of retailers that makes or breaks a fiscal year, fears manifested into fissures in the vaunted Walmart distribution system. The surge in gifts and promotions prioritized on the promise of immediate delivery, overwhelming the system designed to keep the constant selling items on the shelf with minimum delay. Simplified, the peak holiday shoppers were drowning out the day-to-day shoppers that are the pillar of retail. What works well on Amazon for promotions, and raised Walmart’s online sales as well, hurts the company’s bread and butter daily shoppers.

Walmart is attempting to rework their supply chain and distribution on the fly, but with 2 millon employees, 130 distribution centers, and tens of thousands of trucks and trailers, changing infrastructure and overhead is a herculean task their new streaming competitors do not have to face. Every dime spent on streaming service, online acquisitions like the $3.3 Billion Jet.com gamble, and so on is money not available for that vital task. Walmart online head Marc Lore might be trying to run the web side of things as a startup within the company, but shareholders and boards demand tangible results, and quickly with that type of outlay. Netflix, who came back from the death of DVD rental to dominate streaming, has emerged focused solely on being the streaming content provider of choice to many without such overhead to deal with. Amazon is building their own logistics network from the ground up to meet their specific needs with startling innovation in warehousing and distribution systems. Walmart is a behemoth, but when it comes to digital streaming and online, they are an oil tanker in a speed boat race. Turnaround will not be quick.

Walmart, for the first time in a generation, is the underdog

Set aside all the data, all the money, and all the business discussion for a moment: If I tell you there is to be a fight and you can either back the younger, stronger, hungrier fighter who is trained specifically in the style for this one fight or the older, slower, fighter who has to learn a new style to compete, the choice is clear. While the streaming wars to come will pit Walmart against their primary foe of Amazon on a new front, there are many others in that sphere. At the same time, they are trying to retain frugal buyers of general goods not just from Amazon but the Targets, Dollar Generals, and Family Dollars of the world. They are trying to maintain their grocery business, key to their current strategy, against not just the Aldis, Foodlions, Ralphs, Albertsons, and the like, but also Amazon and others probing online grocery ordering and delivery. Walmart rose by being almost all things to all people. If Bentonville is not very careful, Mr. Sam’s company may fall the same way.


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Late blooming political scientist & historian, Net engineer, programmer, technology expert, bad speler, consultant and business owner.

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64 thoughts on “Can Walmart Compete (in Streaming Video)?

  1. “Walmart is attempting to rework their supply chain and distribution on the fly…”

    I work for a very large logistics company so obviously we spend a lot of time trying to figure out the competition. My boss recently told me that he thinks Walmart will try to purchase us in the next 10 years. He has no facts to support this, just a hunch, but it’s a good one. We do the more nimble stuff that Walmart is not currently setup for. We also have a very modern transportation fleet that they could leverage. It would be an interesting marriage…

    As for streaming, this kind of feels silly to me, but maybe they have enough brand-loyal consumers in middle America that they could bring them onboard.

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    • Its a streaming piece so I didn’t want to get to far in the weeds with the log/trans stuff, but you are correct. There has been a quiet bidding war for last mile and LTL carriers over the last 2 years or so, and it’s one of those things where everyone is kind of waiting for the first domino to fall. IMO that domino is going to be one of two things 1) Amazon’s long rumored acquiring of one of the larger LTL carriers (probably XPO but we will see) 2) WalMart’s rumored wholesale purchase of a large scale carrier to stem off their looming driver crisis and inflexibility of their current set-up. Walmart just within last few months started putting distro center drivers back on full time over-the-road and ending their long practice of scheduled runs, for example.

      Amazon’s new Amazon Flex, which lets local folks set up their own delivery networks off of a fulfillment center, is a really interesting development that will need a much longer write up sometime soon.

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      • That #2 item is where my company comes into the picture.

        I wonder how much of the streaming thing is linked to original content. Netflix has far more original content that Amazon today. I find myself going to Amazon for TV pretty infrequently. With that said, the sky is the limit there. Purchasing The Expanse may be a genius move. It has the potential to be a very big show with the right PR.

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        • Yeah, and I want to be careful there (I’m still technically on the payroll of one of the largest trans companies and have lots of contacts at Walmart and elsewhere) so I’m talking around it a bit, but you and I are in the same place on it.

          You make a good point. Netflix is like that out of necessity, its all they do. Amazon their offerings are very good, but it is a piece of their eco-system so they are not reliant on it. It works as a feeder and funnel to other Amazon products so it has value beyond just the views. Which is the point I raised, Walmart is going to be stuck in the middle of that type of dynamic. Mark is right that they have a loyal base, and customers will spend on more than one streaming service. I’m just not sure that will translate to in-store or online sales for Walmart, and that is what their board is looking for.

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      • Andrew Donaldson: Its a streaming piece so I didn’t want to get to far in the weeds with the log/trans stuff, but you are correct. There has been a quiet bidding war for last mile and LTL carriers over the last 2 years or so, and it’s one of those things where everyone is kind of waiting for the first domino to fall. IMO that domino is going to be one of two things 1) Amazon’s long rumored acquiring of one of the larger LTL carriers (probably XPO but we will see) 2) WalMart’s rumored wholesale purchase of a large scale carrier to stem off their looming driver crisis and inflexibility of their current set-up. Walmart just within last few months started putting distro center drivers back on full time over-the-road and ending their long practice of scheduled runs, for example.

        Who are the most active buyers in the LTL and last mile carrier spaces right now?

        My primary focus is healthcare and based on what I’m seeing in that sector and the amount of private equity capital flowing into it, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear of a PE firm aggregating these businesses in order to create scale, operating efficiencies and a profitable enterprise with the possible exit being a sale of the newly-created companies to an Amazon or Wal-Mart.

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        • Just broadly…Amazon started about 10 years ago buying up all the loggie experts they could get their hands on. They’ve been working on their own trans networks/plans for a while. What you say is true but mostly many are either planning for or waiting on Amazon’s move. It will affect everything, from their capacity to them now having leverage with fedex/ups for lower rates. Amazon is driving the sector, everyone else is reacting. So we wait and see…

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  2. I think Walmart can do it. It isn’t a logistics problem, not one of the UPS vs. FedEx types. IE who can get it done cheaper/faster/whatever. No, it is a mousetrap problem.

    Walmart has, as Mark points out above, a certain set of customers at this time. Young, low income, less college, African American. Start with them. Buy the BET networks streaming rights. Buy up every Tyler Perry film. Hell, make a Tyler Perry channel. In other words, work your demographics. Who’s next on that list? Lower class whites. Pick up CrossFlix and every other religious network/site that has programming. Also, UFC and Wrestling. Lastly, older folks tend to watch different things so you need to shore up that hole. Pick up rights to Mayberry or Lou Grant, that sort of thing. Nostalgia TV.*

    Now you have instant content that isn’t really being noticed by the bigger services. In other words, your niche. That will give you a customer base that can be expanded as your content is normalized. Think MTV in the early days. Just videos, but then you grow your market with new products that are desirable to the current customers. This is called a maturing market and is one of the most profitable places a business can get to.

    Amazon started with only books and then grew. Not because they need a way to sell more books, but as a toehold into online sales. That is what Walmart would need to do.

    *I am spitballing on viewing habits, as they aren’t mine. But you get the picture.

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    • If this is a success that will be the model. I alluded to it and you and Mark are correct about the customer base. If they go original content and/or buying up family friendly and religious programming there is definitely an underserved demographic there. That may well work. In fact if they committed to it I would agree with you that it would work. My only thing was even at that it’s still going to be a pretty good outlay upfront with a long lead time to revue and profitability, and with everything going on in Wally World not sure Bentonville will have the patients to see it through.

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        • That’s my feeling on it. Wal-Mart is used to being able to bully suppliers into lowering prices for their stores. They may find the Hollywood studios more resistant to such tactics. The longer the content owners resist dropping prices to meet Wal-Marts demands, the more likely Wal-Mart will be unable to bring the service to maturity.

          That, or Wal-Mart gets into the content production business.

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        • Mark Kruger: The idea that the board is going to need to buy in for the long haul is a good one. It could well be that they get cold feet half way in because it doesn’t fit the way they think or how they have succeeded. We’ll see.

          More than that, the company has Wall Street to answer to and the analysts will ask a lot of questions if they haven’t already.

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      • Well, that is always the crux. Can you wait it out for the market to break, or do you fold and try to ape your competition? As for the initial outlay, look for greater back-end deals to help that end of things. The point of all of this is would be not to gain customers (not initially) but to retain existing customers with value-add. Keep your brand in line with buyers who already use your services, get them thinking about your shops and what they offer, sell access through your shops, etc.

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    • I dig this. While the WWE managed to be part of the first wave of Content Providers for $9.99 a month, I’m not sure that they’ll be the wrestling that partners with this particular 800 pound gorilla, I could see NWA-TNA doing this. And UFC? OFC.

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      • WWE has existing relationship with NBC/Universal and has been cultivating a relationship with Fox for a while now, so going with a start-up, even under the Walmart brand, is going in the wrong direction for them. Someone trying to get on up the mountain would jump all over it though, you are right.

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      • UFC just signed a big deal with ESPN. With that said, I’m still kind of shocked they aren’t revising their model. Dana White is a student of what Vince McMahon has done and the $9.99/month thing is brilliant. UFC PPVs are still ridiculously priced.

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          • Except the market for NJPW is hipster wrestling fans (I say as one), not casual wrestling fans who liked Stone Cold and Goldberg who would sign on to this Wal-Mart streaming service. Old southern wrestling fans turn out to nostalgia shows with The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express on the card, not the ones with NJPW guys showing up.

            Plus, NJPW already has their own streaming service.

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    • I would suggest that a more important overlap with Walmart’s customer base is the (large) group of people who stick with cable TV because they can get it on a month-by-month basis and pay in cash at a storefront. (I live in a relatively upscale suburb, but when I have been at the Comcast outlet to return/exchange a piece of equipment, I am always struck by the number of people in the line who are there to pay their cable bill for the month in cash.) If Walmart is going to try to leverage their existing customer base, they’re competing with the local cable company and its on-demand services rather than with Amazon or Netflix.

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      • That is a great point I did not consider @michael-cain; Walmart already has in-house money services, their product and any subscriptions can be paid for in cash at the store, on a shopping card, whatever, to their customer base in the course of normal events. I’ve noticed the same, and paying in that manner would hold an appeal to certain folks.

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      • Yep, use your model as it currently stands to leverage your product. Maybe put a trial sub on a receipt over $100, free gift cards, whatever. But you have people coming into your store already for cash services. Use that and make it something to expand on.

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  3. I think Andrew has the better argument in this case. The streaming and online shopping markets are at saturation point. Walmart isn’t going to be able to out Amazon Amazon. For streaming content, the various services offer diverse choices of programs for every cultural taste. Walmart really isn’t going to have anything to add except maybe something for the Evangelical Set it is associated with but there are probably streaming services for them to.

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    • The streaming and online shopping markets are at saturation point.

      Eh? My understanding is that Netflix’s subscription base is still growing at a very respectable clip. Perhaps not as fast as some Wall Street analysts think it should, but that is more a discussion about managing WS expectations than it is about external reality.

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  4. I’m on the “Fail” side of things… a couple of comments from working with them in the past (no current info).

    1. Their IT chops are C+ grade at best… high marks for up-time, but their MO has never been to build something good, just something bullet-proof. As far as bullet-proof goes, they are pretty good. Innovation, New Tech? Pretty terrible (comparable to the market).

    2. I also suspect that they might be overestimating their leverage with content providers… I’ve seen some material on how much Disney product they move (for example) and its shockingly large… now that data is(was) mostly exchanged via spreadsheets (see #1)… but I think Disney’s need for Walmart is waning faster than Walmart’s ability to build and leverage their market power to co-opt Disney (and other) content providers. I’ve heard them talk about how they can push around Disney (say) because they move so much content… that’s older info, but the situation has to be worse now than when they uttered it.

    Of course, piles of money can make stuff happen, so I’d take their entry seriously… but I wouldn’t invest in it personally. I think they are chasing a market where they have some but not much advantage rather than leading into a new market they could dominate.

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    • Given what I’ve heard of them wanting to aggressively undercut in price…I’m not optimistic they will have what most people regard as desirable content. It’s one thing to go to a butter company and say “We are in x number of towns and x number thousand people shop in our stores, if you don’t lower your wholesale to us by 5% we won’t carry your brand” it’s another to say to a content-producer, “If you don’t accept the low price we’re offering, we won’t stream your material” – the provider can just go somewhere offering more money but that is more/equally accessible, like Hulu or Netflix.

      Also, one of my big objections (outside of all the behind-the-scenes, how-the-workers-get-treated stuff) is Wal-mart’s apparent policy of carrying an item or brand for a few months and then abruptly dropping it (probably because the company said “no dice” on their lowball offer) and frankly I’d be wary of signing up for a streaming service where maybe the first six weeks would be stuff I wanted, and then it would become “Sam’s Choice” programming that was of a lower desirability level.

      (Also my local store is HORRIBLE about restocking the shelves, but that’s beside the point, but it is disheartening to walk in a store and wonder “was there a hurricane predicted I didn’t hear about?”)

      I think the issue is that a streaming service has some very different factors from a product in a brick-and-mortar store (especially grocery products: I know Amazon does food delivery, but for those of us in BFE that is not a thing, we still have to drive to an actual store to buy perishables). And I think if Wal-mart doesn’t realize that and pursue a different model, it will fail.

      I do think, as someone else said, if they went heavily to the ‘family friendly,” especially the “conservative evangelical family friendly” stuff, that could be a win for them. But if they try to copy Netflix….well, I’m not sure how much cheaper than Netflix they could go.

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    • Their IT was cutting edge (at least for general retail) in the 1980s. This is what gave them the edge over K-Mart, Woolworth’s, etc. The competition (i.e. Target) caught up in the 1990s. This hasn’t been a competitive edge in decades. WalMart’s strategy of squeezing suppliers, using the muscle it built in the ’80s, was essentially a compensation for no longer having the technical edge. A bit after that came the strategy of stripping payroll to the bone, and a bit deeper. This is why they are so bad about keeping the shelves stocked and the store clean and tidy. They were much better about that a quarter century ago.

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  5. Holy cow. We finally have a major corporate constituency that has active reason to *NOT* extend Copyright again. Indeed, to actively fight *AGAINST* it.

    (We might even have a constituency that could realistically argue that the last time it was extended was too much and it needs to be shortened somewhat. I can’t tell if this is a fever dream, though.)

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    • oh wow, I never thought of that. I could totally see wal-mart pushing government to put a hard-end on copyright protection and they could then hoover up all the “public domain” stuff and offer it.

      Then again: if it’s public domain, what’s to stop Netflix from offering it? Or could wal-mart work out some kind of exclusivity deal?

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      • If it’s public domain, it’s public domain.

        But I could see Wal-Mart trumpeting “WE’VE GOT THE LITTLE RASCALS!” and Netflix only having them in the back corner somewhere, if at all. Because I could see Little Rascals being the thing that seals the deal for a Wal-Mart network person (I mean, the person weighing whether to guy the network for 3-6 months) but it wouldn’t be on the table at all for the Netflix person.

        (It depends on how close to free that storage of content plus bandwidth delivery would be.)

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        • Shrug… not a win in the short term… but you raise a very good point about the long term. If they are building this out to a) have standing b) dangle the benefits in front of a hungry consumer base and/or c) because they are already working behind the scene to get Showbiz IP handled more like Drug IP than currently?

          Well, then maybe there is a reason for Libertarians to support Trump …

          {Though I am wary of the unintended consequences of lax IP protections}

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          • Though I am wary of the unintended consequences of lax IP protections

            I’m standing in a place where I see the ratchet as having been turned enough times that loosening the ratchet to where it was in, say, the 90’s will not get us to “lax”. Indeed, from where I sit, we’ve a fur piece to get to “lax”.

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          • I went back and revisited one of the scenes from Stymie and one of the scenes from Buckwheat and… yeah. The Netflix crowd would not countenance such a display. Not even with Whoopi Goldberg giving an un-fast-forwardable speech before each short.

            But I could see both the CrossFlix crowd and the Madea crowd having more of a… well. They would both, for different reasons, be able to sit down and enjoy a Little Rascals short without requiring Whoopi Goldberg to give a speech explaining the historical context first.

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  6. Well, y’all have hit all the points that came to my mind. To summarize

    * There’s no real technical obstacle to doing this, assuming management is determined to push it. There will be a learning curve, if they are prepared to accept that, they can do this.

    * Such an effort will live or die on content, I don’t see where they get an identity for that content. Perhaps they can do tie-ins with in-store purchases. They aren’t going to win by streaming Disney content, because Disney wants to do that for themselves. Clout doesn’t matter in the face of that. I’m very comfortable with Netflix, due to all the superhero stuff – Defenders, and The CW combined. That’s original programming.

    * I do not, for a moment, think that Walmart will find it easy to pivot to creating its own content. That is just way, way different than what they do (and do very well) now. Even more different than building out streaming technology.

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    • They may wind up THINKING it’s easy to pivot to creating new content (“Hey there are LOTS of unemployed art-school types who would jump at a part-time minimum wage job!”) and if they try that, they will fail.

      Have you ever looked at the low-budget religious/pro-morals kids’ cartoons on religious broadcasters? I’m thinking that’s what Wal-mart produced content turns out like. I don’t mean Veggietales. I mean, the stuff where someone said “Veggietales, but cheaper”

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  7. I have two family members who are really rooting for Walmart to make this fly because they are tired of (as they put it) “getting preached to by Netflix and Amazon”. So I think there is a real market for Walmart to make this happen if they can avoid overtly politicizing their offerings.

    That having been said I fully expect Walmart’s service to be barely functional, difficult to navigate, overpriced, and perpetually out of the one thing you went there for to begin with since that’s how they run their stores.

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        • I’m being cynical, and possibly/probably unfair to Kristin’s relatives, in that their stated preference for not getting preached to by Amazon & Netflix is a specific desire not to get preached to in that matter. But preaching would be fine if they were getting preached to by say, Kevin Sorbo.

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          • I don’t think this is right, at least not in its entirety. Not long ago, my wife (very liberal) and I were watching the new Ali Wong comedy special. It seemed that between every joke she told was a push for [don’t want to derail the convo] that was so obviously scripted in that it was jarring each and every time it came up. And it isn’t something that I am politically against, I simply don’t like getting preached to. And the Hank Azaria show Broadmire would do the same thing. It was so bad that even with my wife agreeing 100% with the political stance they were pushing, she wanted to turn it off.

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          • I just wrote something fairly scathing in response to this and deleted it because if the two sides don’t start finding a way to listen to each other and communicate with some element of friendliness, we really are doomed. And it starts with the individual so I’m going to try to express my response in such a way as to hopefully foster understanding. (but then again I know how this site works, LOL, so everything I will write will be now twisted around and portrayed in a negative light, but that is not how I mean any of it. I am just trying to communicate with you.)

            Firstly I’ll just say that your assumption is completely wrongheaded and there are many, MANY people of many political stripes who are simply tired of everything being aggressively in-your-face political all the time. (so, so very tired)

            But you know what, saying that puts the argument on your terms. If I were to sit here and say “Oh no they’re not like that…Kevin Sorbo, pft!!…they’re just tired of it all” doesn’t that concede your larger point that movies featuring Christian sensibilities are in some way lesser than, less worthy of being seen/streamed? Doesn’t it imply that I’m embarrassed by your assertion that my relatives are right wing Christians who have terrible taste in movies and that I’m somehow apologizing for that?

            But I’m not. I would not and will not apologize for the existence of Christians on their own terms. You’re wrong in your interpretation of what I wrote about my relatives, but I’m not apologetic and you cannot be “unfair” to my relatives because being a very conservative Christian is NOT an inferior position to progressivism. I don’t care if you assume something about my relatives that happens to be incorrect. But Christianity is not an inferior belief system that Christians and friends of Christians should be ashamed for. It may be different, and you may not aspire to it personally, but it’s got good things and bad things about it and some people it really works for. I know these people and they are good and kind people (and some of them even do watch Kevin Sorbo movies.)

            So even if your assumption was accurate, so the eff what, why shouldn’t people who like Christian movies and Kevin Sorbo have an option to watch? Where is the inherent harm in that? Why is Walmart streaming Kirk Cameron any different/sinister than having a streaming service that features things like Transparent or Dear White People? Why is one thing good and the other bad?

            I feel that the furthest extension of your assumption (and forgive me, I’m connecting some dots here) in which my relatives are “ok with being preached to as long as it’s Kevin Sorbo”, and that is somehow inherently bad (correct?? I’m not misreading that “Kevin Sorbo movies are bad both morally and artisticaly” implication between the lines there, am I?? I mean after all you did say “I am probably being UNFAIR” as in judging them too harshly, which to me implies a negative judgement) is that anyone who is a right wing, conservative, Christian does not deserve entertainment that represents their worldviews. I’m not saying you are saying that personally but it IS the furthest extension of your argument, IMO.

            If Kevin Sorbo is bad and people who watch Kevin Sorbo should be harshly judged and it’s pretty gross of them to dare to prefer and even hope for a streaming service that more accurately represents their worldviews, a streaming service where they can be preached to in the fashion in which they enjoy, I can’t draw any other conclusion from that then to think “wow some people really think that the world would be better off if conservative Christians were not allowed to take part in the entertainment industry”.

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            • OK, so, I don’t object to objecting or basically anything anyone has said in this thread, I honestly think it’s mostly miscommunication that is causing the friction.

              What I do object to is a point of fact: Y’all seem to share the idea that Netflix only has preachy “woke” entertainment, when in point of fact Netflix also has preachy Christian movies and shows (including quite conservative / mainstream evangelical ones) by the bucketload. Don’t believe me? Anyone with Netflix, at least, can search “Case for Christ” and a bucketload of said movies/shows will come up. Click on the Faith and Spirituality category in the description of one of these, and you’ll find several more bucketloads available, categorized into several subcategories which are not exclusively Christian but massively so (to the point where if you were looking for a chunk of stuff from another faith you’d have to specify).

              Now, they also have preachy mainstream African-American Christian movies, preachy Hindu movies/shows (so much of Bollywood!), and I suspect if I paid more attention to K-dramas I’d find many of them preaching Confucian values as well.

              Netflix has a ton of preachy movies of whatever stripe because some people genuinely like preachy movies, is all.

              There’s an argument that they don’t *market* them all the same way, yes, but the content is indubitably there. I haven’t found Kevin Sorbo or Kirk Cameron specifically, but there is plenty of content. I’ve even watched some of it (I had a religious studies minor in college because I’m fascinated by the interplay of faith and history).

              I suspect but do not know (and am too lazy to check whether) Amazon is the same.

              So, as you were, I guess, but y’all think you know Netflix a lot better than I think you do.

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        • Well, yes, I said it was unfair and presumptuous. Yet, neither Netflix nor Amazon have anything as preachy as the Handmaid’s Tale.

          I’m actually trying to figure out which series are tiresome to your family members for preachiness, as opposed to being tiresome because they are way overrated and all up in their own hype.

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          • I believe you, that’s the thing. I know that a good percentage of you really don’t see it, because it’s just part of how you see the world and it feels natural and right that the movies are what they are.

            But it’s overwhelming when you come at it from even a neutral position. It’s overwhelming for anyone who is not 100% steeped in the worldview. Even for people who agree with you on certain issues. It’s honestly LIKE watching a Kevin Sorbo movie many times – get hit on the head with the same darn point 48 times and you’re thinking “wow ok what’s this stealing thing I’m not supposed to do? Totally doing that at the first available opportunity”

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            • That’s message fiction in a nutshell. Usually the really bad stuff is fan fiction and wanna be authors who have to use a vanity press or the like, but the stuff that actually gets published or produced for TV/film can still be bad.

              I mean, I know it’s hard to put the story first and sneak in the message in subtle ways, but that’s how you do it right.

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  8. In order to make this work, WalMart is going to have to build it into the TVs they sell, with something like a six-month free subscription.

    Mark’s argument that folks will subscribe to Netflix AND WalmarTV doesn’t pass the smell test to me. Since Walmart is shut out of basically all scripted TV and sports content by existing agreements, there’s probably very little that the Netflix subscriber wants that walmart will be able to provide. Walmart is mainly going to be going for folks that don’t already have a streaming service.

    I think Walmart’s actual biggest competitor here is free videos on YouTube and Basic Cable channels. If they can get home improvement content, Law and Order reruns, and generic kids shows, their path toward profitability is to get a new class of people to become cord-cutters by leveraging their sale of hardware and their ability to serve those without reliable credit cards.

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  9. Amazon Prime’s unlimited free 2 day shipping makes Prime worth the cost alone. For me the videos are an afterthought. I wonder what their subscriber numbers would be like without the free shipping?

    Walmart will need to provide incentive such as this to gain any foothold, I suspect.

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    • Well made point. There are those in Walmart who feel that the 2 day shipping is a lose-lose for the company. This is a good example of the conflict internally at the company right now. The board and shareholders predominately see everything that Walmart does peripheral to in-store retail as a distraction. To them offering 2 day or free pickup is a lose because those folks are not coming in the store. Even though they are purchasing from Walmart, they do not get the ancillary revenue of getting them into their store, or as Amazon calls it “their eco-system”. Amazon’s is click away at limitless possibilities online for their eco-system and compounding ancillary revenue; for right now Walmart’s is still in-store. Even their on-line is focused on picking up at the store if possible first. They have to do this because their logistics is tooled solely for in-store refurbishment of product. Amazon is a logistics company first, retail, video and all that second. Walmart used to be logistics first, but right now is trying to be a retail, video and all that right now to compete, and the logistics being tasked for something it is not designed for is going to strangling them to death.

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      • The board and shareholders predominately see everything that Walmart does peripheral to in-store retail as a distraction.

        And yet they do so little to make the in-store experience attractive. I have a WalMart and a Target in my town. Their merchandise selections are not quite the same, so for some things WalMart is pretty much the option. But given the option, I will go to Target simply because the shelves will be stocked, there will be enough check stands open, and the aisles won’t be filled with merchandise blocking the way.

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