Wal-Mart, the largest seller of DVDs in the United States, will launch its highly-anticipated movie download service later today.
A beta version of the their online video store is expected to begin sometime this morning with at least 3,000 films and TV shows. All major movie studios will participate, although Fox is the only TV network that will be included at launch.
Wal-Mart has a lot of clout when it comes to negotiating wholesale rates and retail prices are expected to be slightly lower than those typically charged by other movie download services.
This will be a download-only service (no rentals) and it'll be compatible with the Windows operating system. You can watch the digital content on a PC or transfer it to any player that uses Microsoft DRM software. (Sorry, folks... that means that once again, we have to tell you that this won't be compatible with iPods. Or Macs, for that matter.)
You won't be able to burn a DVD, either, at least not initially. But we imagine they're working on it.
More details as they become known...
[Popular: George W. Bush's Netflix Queue]
Update: The New York Times offers these additional facts...
Download prices will be $12.88 to $19.88 on the day of the DVD release; older movies will start at $7.50 and TV shows at $1.96 an episode.
Wal-Mart said its prices would be competitive, and a quick scan of a major rival, CinemaNow, suggested the prices would be relatively close. A download of “Superman Returns” cost $14.88 on Walmart.com yesterday versus $14.95 on Cinema Now.
To avoid running afoul of studios, who want to protect their DVD business, Wal-Mart said the price of a digital movie would be comparable to that of the DVD at its stores.
Update: Curiously, as of 6:00 AM this morning, there's still no press release at the Wal-Mart corporate site.
Update: The service is up, or at least it's trying its best. The servers must be overloaded; as of 9:17 AM this morning, we can see the teaser announcements on the front page of the site, as well as on the "movies" page, but when we click through, we get improperly an informally formatted page... screenshot after the jump.
Update: Well, we were able to track down a press release, but it contained little we hadn't already been able to suss out on our own. It does feature this standard-issue quote from Kevin Swint, Wal-Mart's divisional merchandise manager for digital media
"This marks a significant step for Wal-Mart in home video, and enables us to better serve our customers as they begin to complement their DVD purchases with downloading of digital video content."
"With thousands of movie and TV titles now available for download, coupled with the strength of our successful physical DVD business, this is an unprecedented offering of video content, features and capabilities currently unmatched in the market. Also, we're excited to launch a service that has the support of all the major Hollywood studios."
They also confirm the full list of participating studios: Fox, Disney, Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner, along with TV shows from Comedy Central, CW, FOX, FOX Reality, 20th Century Fox Television Classics, Fuel TV, FX, Logo, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., SPEED, The N, VH1, and Warner Bros.
And they talk about their partnership with HP and how their design for the new download service will absolutely knock our socks off.
The press release, of course, contains a link to the service, which as of 10:35 this morning was still not working. Perhaps they should rethink their highly touted relationship with HP. In this 24/7 press cycle, it'll only be a matter of another half hour or so during which the positive coverage will turn unfavorable and everyone will start talking about how the service failed right out of the gate.
We expect another press release within a couple of days talking about how the response to their new service was overwhelming, but that they've now worked the kinks out and would like us all to come back to kick the tires.
Yet another in a continuing series of Updates: Well, this should explain everything: Frank Barnako reports over at MarketWatch that "Walmart.com's new video download service doesn't work for the millions of people who use the Firefox browser."
Your humble reporter is one of them. (*Sigh*)