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Walmart’s Vudu Sets Originals With Queen Latifah, Evangeline Lilly, Randy Jackson for Free-Streaming Lineup

Vudu wants to entertain Middle America with a lineup of free, ad-supported original streaming content — and the company also envisions the slate as a great way to get consumers to buy stuff from its parent, Walmart.

This week, Vudu pulled back the curtain on its upcoming lineup of free-to-watch originals, which execs say is geared around family-oriented and advertiser-friendly content. Vudu last year announced its plan to dive into AVOD originals, inking a deal with MGM and announcing its first original project: a series adaptation of “Mr. Mom,” the 1983 comedy that starred Michael Keaton.

Now Vudu has provided a look at what’s next, with an unveiling at its Digital Content NewFronts marketing pitch in New York City.

The slate includes a travel/comedy show executive produced by Queen Latifah; a sci-fi series starring Evangeline Lilly (“Lost,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp”); an interview docu-series with Randy Jackson; and episodes of “Blue’s Clues & You,” a remake of the popular preschool show set to premiere on Nickelodeon. Vudu also has partnered with Variety for a weekly entertainment newsmagazine-style show.

Vudu started life in 2004 as a transactional online video storefront (acquired by Walmart in 2010). It still competes with the likes of iTunes and Amazon Video, but branched out starting in 2016 with a free, ad-supported VOD offering with licensed catalog content.

The revenue opportunity for Vudu isn’t just serving video ads. It’s owned by the world’s largest retailer, so it’s looking for the ecommerce angle: Vudu is testing a new “shoppable in-stream ads” format, designed to encourage users to click on a spot to receive product information via email or “add to cart” prompt to allow users to add an item featured in an ad to their cart on walmart.com.

And later this year, Vudu plans to bow interactive shows — a la Netflix’s “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” — created in partnership with Eko, the interactive-video company in which Walmart invested $250 million to create a joint content-development venture.

Currently, Vudu’s AVOD lineup comprises about 8,000 full-length movies and TV shows, complementing its transactional VOD business, which offers over 100,000 titles to buy or rent.

Here’s a rundown of originals Vudu announced for 2019-20:

  • “Friends in Strange Places” (coming in 2020): From Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment and Electus (which IAC sold to Howard Owens and Ben Silverman’s Propagate). In the series, announced last year, Latifah enlists her best celebrity friends to explore the U.S. and unearth amazing experiences. The eight-episode, hour-long unscripted show features a “docu-follow” format.
  • “Albedo” (coming in 2020): In scripted sci-fi drama, Evangeline Lilly stars as detective Vivien Coleman, who is dispatched to the edge of the solar system to investigate a scientist’s mysterious death on board an isolated space station. She soon finds herself trapped and cut off from Earth, stranded with the station’s small crew of brilliant scientists — all murder suspects harboring their own secrets. The eight-episode show, produced in partnership with eOne and Bell Canada, comes from Brad Peyton (director of “Rampage,” “San Andreas”) and the writers of “X-Men” and “Watchmen.”
  • “Turning Point with Randy Jackson” (coming in 2020): Randy Jackson embarks on an epic cross-country exploration of the artistic journey of some the most influential creative minds of the past two decades. Produced by Tiny Horse, season 1 will feature 10 30-minute episodes in an interview and documentary-style format.
  • “Blue’s Clues & You” (coming in 2019): In partnership with Viacom, Vudu’s AVOD will exclusively premiere three episodes of the series following the titular puppy to solve puzzles with the help of her live-action pal, prior to the linear TV premiere on Nickelodeon in November. In addition, Vudu will have a selection of episodes from the original “Blue’s Clues” catalog available over the next year.
  • “Adventure Force 5” (coming in 2019): Live-action, 90-minute movie from Studio71 and Zoic about a ragtag band of tech-savvy kids who must work together to outsmart (of course) an evil genius who is using dangerous alien-robot hybrids to hold their small coastal town hostage.
  • “Variety’s First Look”: A branded, half-hour program produced by Variety Content Studio, the branded-content arm of Variety. The weekly show, with season 1 to comprise 26 episodes, will provide a look at the latest entertainment news and deep dives on shows available for streaming on Vudu, along with hosted studio segments, red-carpet coverage, celebrity interviews, and behind-the-scenes segments. Production is slated to start in the third quarter of 2019 and debut in the fall.

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