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Vudu Lets Friends ‘Share’ Movies

Looking to get a leg up in the hyper-competitive electronic sell-through (EST) market, Walmart-owned Vudu has introduced a feature that lets customers share purchased movies and TV shows with up to five people for free and without requiring customers to share passwords.

Vudu said its new “Share My Movies” feature removes the friction of lending physical DVDs and Blu-ray Discs by allowing users to share their digitally purchased collections via just one simple requirement — providing their friends’ email addresses.

The new feature, which comes online more than four years after Walmart acquired Vudu, is based on UltraViolet, a digital locker format managed by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, which counts Comcast, Cox Communications and CableLabs among its backers.

That’s also part of the catch — Vudu’s Share My Movies component applies only to DVDs or Blu-ray movies offered at Walmart stores that are bundled with an UltraViolet digital copy. But buyers who opt for titles with that electronic option can enable friends to play back titles on a wide range of platforms, including Web browsers, smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles, including the new Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4.

A Vudu official confirmed that the new sharing feature works for a customer’s friend or family member, regardless of whether they have an UltraViolet account. If they don’t, Vudu will prompt them to create one. If they do, the newly shared titles will appear in their UltraViolet libraries.

While Vudu is the first to implement this movie-sharing option, the move could spur others to do the same as the EST market continues to heat up.

Comcast, which has yet to tap UltraViolet’s platform, launched a cross-platform EST product last year, offering playback of purchased movies and TV shows on settops, browsers and iOS- and Android-powered tablets and smartphones.

Others that are fighting for share with Apple’s marketleading iTunes platform include M-GO, Amazon Instant Video, the Sony PlayStation Store, Xbox Video, Google Play and Verizon Communications, which was the first U.S. pay TV operator to introduce an EST service. In February, The Walt Disney Co. got into the game with its own EST service — Disney Movies Anywhere — that uses a proprietary digital rights system called KeyChest.

EST is a small but growing market segment. In the U.S. it jumped 50% in 2013, surpassing $1 billion for the first time, according to The Digital Entertainment Group. DEG also said UltraViolet had about 15 million accounts by the end of last year.