Walmart Inc. is going Hollywood.
The world’s largest retailer has formed a joint venture with a startup, Eko, to develop original, interactive programming, including cooking shows and toy catalogs, and will acquire an undisclosed stake in the company, according to a statement today. Walmart also will invest more than $200 million with Eko, a person with knowledge of the matter said, and has agreed to take part in its next funding round.
Walmart is already one of the world’s largest sellers of movies and TV shows through its retail outlets and online stores. Now the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company wants to coax more of its customers to watch videos and read books using its array of web properties. Walmart operates the online video service Vudu, as well as an e-book platform.
“Customers are spending a lot of their time in the digital world, and we want to be a player with respect to our customers’ daily digital habits,” Scott McCall, Walmart’s head of entertainment, said in an interview. “Customers drive by Walmart stores several times a day. We want to them drive by our digital footprint several times a day.”
Eko and Walmart are still settling on the details of what they will make together, but the output will include short-form and long-form programming, McCall said. Those programs will be available on Walmart properties, as well as on social media and other services.
Invitation to Shop
Programs could invite viewers to buy products from Walmart’s stores, and could range from advertisements and web series to TV and movies. The retailer has no interest in being a studio that produces programming, but wants to pay other studios to make shows.
The deal with New York-based Eko is one of several that Walmart has in the works to attract more original programming. The company announced this week it would pay Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. to create original programs for Vudu, and McCall said he hoped the Eko announcement would lead to conversations with all of Hollywood’s major studios.
Eko is anything but a traditional studio. Founded in 2010 as Interlude, the company has spent the last eight years developing interactive forms of storytelling that blend movies and video games. Eko possesses more than 15 patents for its technology.
The company created a Coke advertisement featuring a mom and her daughter, and viewers had the option of watching from the perspective of both characters. Eko also created a six-part adaptation of “WarGames,” the 1983 film featuring Matthew Broderick as nerd who accidentally triggers a countdown to nuclear Armageddon. Other companies, including Netflix Inc. and HBO, have begun experimenting with interactive shows.
The deal with Walmart “is the largest investment made to date in interactive TV,” said Yoni Bloch, chief executive officer of Eko. Other investors in the company include Sony Pictures, MGM, Sequoia Capital, Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and billionaire Len Blavatnik’s Warner Music Group.
The Wall Street Journal reported in July that Walmart was developing a new streaming service with help from TV executive Mark Greenberg. McCall didn’t comment on those plans and said he doesn’t know Greenberg.
“I run the entertainment business for Walmart, and I have no idea who he is,” McCall said.