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If You Can't Beat 'Em…

5 Dec, 2006 By: Stephanie Prange

It was a sign of the power of packaged media after the dot-com boom when producers of online shorts and other Web content began putting their stuff on DVD. Last week, we saw another nod to the packaged media business. Wal-Mart started selling consumers the Superman Returns DVD with a sticker code to unlock low-priced downloads to put the film on a PC or portable device. Wal-Mart's Kevin Swint called it “the best of both worlds” for customers.

Certainly, this is just an interim step in the evolution of the home entertainment business. (Needless to say, sans copy protection, consumers could do all of this with a DVD on their own without Wal-Mart acting as middleman.) The ultimate solution is a disc that allows folks to copy films to a PC or portable, which may be realized with the new HD formats. A studio could specify how and to what device a consumer could download a copy from the disc, allowing for an expansion of use increasingly in demand.

Wal-Mart's significant investment in the existing packaged media DVD business most likely had much to do with the way they have piggybacked downloads onto a packaged media sale. And Warner's interest in helping them in this endeavor no doubt had a lot to do with Wal-Mart's nearly 40 percent market share of the DVD business. Still, those little shiny discs have a draw all their own.

Ultimately, it's pretty hard to shake packaged media. When you put a program on your computer, do you discard the disc? Most likely, you keep it as a backup in case the program is lost or degraded. That's what I think most folks would like to do with their movies: Keep them on disc for home theater viewing — with superior sound and picture — or simply for storage, but copy them to certain devices for mobility.

Having both options is probably the best bet for most, especially since downloading top quality high-definition movies and extras takes prohibitively long. I'm just not so sure Wal-Mart will always need to be in the middle of the consumer transaction. But, for now, the Wal-Mart deal is an easy way for Warner to mollify the big chain's concerns about newfangled downloading and consumer appetites as well.

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