Walmart is exploring building its own streaming service, The New York Times reported, and is speaking with some big-name content players about what shows and movies it can offer to Walmart Plus subscribers. The company appears to have had discussions with Paramount, Disney, and Comcast about the service, though it’s not clear if those talks have come to anything. (Walmart declined to comment.)
In recent years, Walmart has tried different avenues to delve deeper into the entertainment business. It acquired Vudu back in 2010 and then mostly neglected the service for a decade before selling it to Fandango in 2020. Meanwhile, Walmart was rumored to be developing its own streaming service back in 2018 before dropping those plans as well. It has had deals with Redbox and other streaming and rental companies over time, and even has its own streaming box, Onn. But now that it continues to look for perks to offer people spending $98 a year on a Walmart Plus subscription, the company appears to be resuming its streaming plans.
Walmart has been trying to figure out digital entertainment for a long time. A long time. Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge
One important thing to understand about Walmart Plus is that it’s basically just Amazon Prime. With your membership, you’ll get free shipping, faster checkout, and special members-only offers. (Also cheaper gas.) Walmart is looking for ways to inspire more brand loyalty and bring people into its subscription universe (and therefore into its marketplace). Getting involved in the content wars helps that ambition in two ways: it gives people more things to do in your ecosystem, and it decreases the number of bills they pay.
There are several ways Walmart could approach its streaming ambitions, which Amazon has done with great success. One is to license a lot of content, create an original team to make Walmart exclusives, and really go after Netflix and Disney and the rest. In that case, it would be somewhat surprising if Comcast, Paramount, and Disney sold content to Walmart Plus that they could reserve for their own services. (A workaround for Walmart might be to build something like the Roku channel, an ad-supported service that doesn’t compete directly.)
There are a number of ways Walmart could get into streaming — and Amazon has done them all
Walmart could also emulate Amazon’s Channels product, which instead of competing with other streaming services will help users subscribe to them. In this world, Walmart Plus subscribers might get a special deal on Peacock or Paramount Plus, or be able to access those services simply by signing up through Walmart. Walmart becomes a powerful marketing tool for these services, making Walmart Plus more useful by consolidating many accounts and monthly payments into one.
All of this is preliminary, the Times reported, and could fizzle out. Walmart might decide it doesn’t want to spend the money and energy to take on the streaming giants again — especially in an increasingly competitive market where even Netflix is suddenly feeling unstable. But Walmart has been in this space for a long time, and Prime’s playbook says streaming is worth the effort and billions of dollars it takes to pull it off.