Walmart explores adding streaming access to Walmart Plus memberships

A Walmart store.
(Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr Creative Commons)

Retail giant Walmart has held discussions with several major media companies on a partnership that could allow the company to offer access to a streaming video service as part of its premium membership service Walmart Plus, according to a report.

On Tuesday, the New York Times said Walmart has held discussions with media executives at the Walt Disney Company, Comcast and Paramount Global on the idea, though it was not clear how far those talks went or whether any of the media companies were on board with the idea.

Walmart charges $12.95 a month for its Walmart Plus service, which includes free two-day shipping on online purchases, free grocery delivery with a minimum order and discounts on gas at Exxon and Mobil stations. It also offers one-off perks like a six-month free trial to Spotify Premium.

In the membership space, Walmart primarily competes against Amazon’s Prime service, which costs $15 a month or $150 a year and includes a ton of benefits, including access to its own Amazon Music service and unlimited streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

A tie-up between Walmart and a streaming video provider could help generate more interest in Walmart Plus at a time when the benefits appear to be fewer than what its closest competitor offers.

Over the last few years, upstart streaming video companies have been keen on making a deal with a large, established brand to get customers in front of their product. Disney, for instance, has a long-standing agreement with wireless phone company Verizon to offer free access or extended trial subscriptions to its three streaming services — Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus — to certain Verizon customers, while Paramount Global recently inked a deal that allows most T-Mobile postpaid customers to get one year of the ad-supported tier of Paramount Plus for free.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have also experimented with offering free or discounted access to streaming services: Last year, Target began offering extended free trials of Apple TV, Apple Music and other Apple subscription services to members of its Target Circle loyalty program, while Best Buy once offered an extended free trial of streaming video service Philo to customers when they purchased certain streaming devices like a new Roku player.

Years ago, Walmart tried to go at it alone when it purchased streaming video rental service Vudu in 2010. But the company never made much of an attempt to market Vudu as a service to its customers — though it did try to sell a streaming device called the Spark that only worked with the service, a cheap way to get customers locked in from the start — and by the time the streaming video marketplace began to mature, Vudu was already starting to feel left behind. Walmart sold Vudu to Comcast subsidiary Fandango in 2020.

Now, Walmart appears ready to give it another try — though, still stung by the Vudu fiasco, it appears unwilling to go at it alone. And with most major media companies moving away from licensing deals in favor of keeping popular titles in-house for their own streaming endeavors, it might be hard for Walmart to build something from the ground up anyway.

So a partnership with a third party makes a lot of sense. Now the big question is, who wants to work with Walmart on a streaming deal?

Based on limited information in the New York Times report coupled with past reporting on Walmart’s retail operations, Comcast is the most-likely of the three companies to ink a deal with the retailer over a streaming initiative. A partnership between the two companies makes a lot of sense: Walmart was one of the first retailers to agree to sell Comcast’s line of XClass television sets. And of the three media companies mentioned in the New York Times article, Comcast has the fewest customers who are paying for its premium streaming service.

The likelihood of Walmart adding free access to a streaming service as part of a Walmart Plus membership seems inevitable, but we’ll have to wait to see who lands the partnership.