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Walmart’s Vudu Launches Free Movie, TV Service With Thousands of Titles

Vudu, which has been selling and renting HD movies and TV shows online for nearly a decade, is now offering free, ad-supported access to several thousand premium titles — a move by the Walmart-owned service to boost revenue from older content.

The new service, Vudu Movies on Us, won’t include new releases or current TV series. Those will remain available only as premium-priced options. At launch, free movies include “Mad Max,” “True Grit,” “Abduction,” “School of Rock,” “Hoosiers,” “The Phantom of the Opera” (2004), “Young Adult,” “Margin Call,” “A Walk to Remember” and “The Magnificent Seven” (1960). Vudu says it will be adding more content in the coming months.

“There’s no better value than free,” said Jeremy Verba, VP and GM of Vudu. “We see a gap in the marketplace for watching free HD movies on-demand.”

With the retail giant’s push into premium ad-supported VOD, Vudu will compete for viewer attention and advertising budgets against AVOD players like Sony’s Crackle, AdRise’s TubiTV and Yahoo View (which has a licensing deal with Hulu to offer free shows), as well as the free, ad-supported services from networks like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

Verba said Vudu considered developing a subscription VOD service, “but we felt the ad-supported model was where we should focus.” According to the company’s research, more than half of Walmart shoppers said they’re interested in watching free or discounted ad-supported video services.

More to the point: Competing against the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu would have required considerable investment on Walmart’s part to acquire exclusive, premium-grade content.

Vudu’s free streaming service, besides generating new ad dollars, will give it a funnel of potential new customers for its core transactional business offering more than 100,000 titles for rent or purchase. Ever since it launched in 2007, Vudu has focused on delivering high-end digital video tech and earlier this year became the first service to integrate 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos Audio.

The company will promote Vudu Movies on Us first to its several million registered users who have made a purchase on the service in the past. Verba said the AVOD service will then be marketed on Walmart.com and in Walmart stores, which receive 140 million visitors each week. “We have a great customer base built in we can promote this to,” said Verba.

The Vudu Movies on Us selections will stream in 1080p HD, with Dolby Digital sound available for some titles, and can be watched across dozens of smart TVs, Blu-ray players, and connected-TV devices including Roku, Google’s Chromecast and video-game consoles. Vudu also is accessible on the web and via apps for iOS and Android devices.

The free service — which is available only in the U.S., as is Vudu’s transactional storefront — will carry limited commercials, primarily pre-roll ads and some mid-roll spots, Verba said. TracFone Wireless and American Express are among the initial advertising partners, as well as local automotive dealerships whose ads will be targeted to viewers in designated market areas.

“This is a big opportunity for advertisers. Consumer viewing habits are changing,” Verba said. “Leading up to this launch, we were very, very focused on making this a great customer experience, and we’ll work with advertising partners to shape the service.”

Vudu’s main partner on the advertising sales and tech front is Ooyala, a New York-based online-video company owned by Australia’s Telstra. Vudu will work with Nielsen to track and report viewing of the free service on connected TVs and mobile at launch.

Founded in 2004, Vudu was acquired by Walmart in 2010. Today, Vudu has about 100 employees based in Sunnyvale, Calif., while the retailer’s Walmart.com and e-commerce teams are based in San Bruno.

Verba joined Vudu in mid-2014. He previously was CEO of online-dating site eHarmony, and has worked at Foundation Capital as an entrepreneur-in-residence, AOL and Zynga.

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