My track record for industry prognostication can be spotty. Like many in my field I thought Avatar would bomb (oops!), and I never thought that Jews would be a force to reckon with in Hollywood. So I’ve been wrong. But I’ve also been right, and one thing I’ve been right about is the future of movie distribution being digital. The latest major player to figure this out: Wal-Mart, one of the biggest corporations in America, who has bought the video streaming service Vudu with a plan to get into the Netflix Watch Instantly game.

Vudu streams movies, and in fact has applications to do so that come built into some LG HDTVs. They offer a set top box as well, and they have a very high quality option – indistinguishable from Blu-Ray – that weighs in at a hefty 4.5 gigs per film. But they also offer lighter HD and standard def options; many of the naysayers have claimed that the lack of truly hi-def digital streaming was a sign that physical media would not be bested; Vudu begs to differ.

Vudu currently has a 16,000 title library, and they have some films day and date with DVD release (for sale, not for streaming rental). Now that Wal-Mart is bringing their muscle behind the service expect that to explode.

The upside here is that Netflix has a competitor, although Vudu offers pay as you go rentals as opposed to Netflix’s glorious massive queue of Watch Instantly movies (mine is currently maxed out at 500 titles!). That could change, though – either way. Netflix could go a la carte or Vudu could open the floodgates.

This is a huge moment because it’s one of the main brick and mortar retailers in the United States accepting the simple fact that digital download is the way of the future. My biggest fear, though, is that this fragments the digital distribution universe – to get Sony movies I’ll have to use Vudu while Warner Bros will only be on Netflix, for example. But I feel like these are just bumps on the road to the future, where we won’t need roads anyway.

I couldn’t be more excited about the explosion of digital download. I also couldn’t be more excited that it comes at a time when the theatrical exclusivity window is closing. I’ve been writing for CHUD for about a decade now, and in those ten years I’ve recommended countless movies that my readers outside of New York and LA would never have a chance to see – even when they hit DVD it was unlikely local small town video stores would carry them. As we get closer to a future of all digital download we get closer to a time when movie fans have more options at their fingertips than anyone ever imagined.

via HD Report

[A note: my enthusiasm for this news is of course tempered by the fact that Wal-Mart remains a truly destructive corporate presence, annihilating local business and lowering the standard of living for its employees. While acknowledging these incontrovertible facts, it’s also objectively a big deal that Wal-Mart has moved into this arena. For more on Wal-Mart, check out Wal-Mart: The High Cost Of Low Prices, a movie that will surely not be available on Vudu]