Swapping titles from your movie collection is getting a digital twist for users of the Vudu streaming service. Vudu customers will be able to share their online video libraries with up to five other people, via a newly announced Share My Movies feature.
Walmart-owned Vudu touts the new feature as a “safer way to share” since anyone you invite to use the service gets their own username and password. That spares you the worry of people accidentally running up charges on your account, since unlike a subscription service such as Netflix, Vudu users rent or buy digital movies à la carte. But Walmart enjoys a perk of its own: Since anyone invited to share must sign up for Vudu to see the content, the retailer has access to potential new customers for its streaming service.
Share My Movies invitees must also sign up to the UltraViolet movie streaming service to see anything from Vudu. That’s the “online digital locker” promoted by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, a group of 58 Hollywood studios and technology companies, as an counterpoint to Apple’s iTunes. UltraViolet’s complex signup, operational clunkiness, and poor performance has inspired strangled howls of fury from consumers, most recently during the online release of the Veronica Mars movie.
UltraViolet’s shortcomings aside, the ability to easily share digital movies that you own with other people is nothing to sneeze at. iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play also rent and sell digital movies, but lack such a feature. Vudu's Share My Movies can support up to three simultaneous streams, in case you and the people you’re sharing with want to watch the same movie at the same time. A Thursday blog post from Amit Balan, senior director of Vudu, says that Share My Movies also applies to the UltraViolet digital copy that comes with many DVDs and Blu-ray movies purchased at Walmart’s brick-and-mortar stores.
These benefits do come with a catch, though. If you share your Vudu library with a new user, they're prompted to create a new Vudu account, link it to a new UltraViolet account, and all is fine. But if someone you're sharing with already has his own UltraViolet library, that existing library is unlinked from his Vudu account—basically, your friend is temporarily replacing his own library with yours. He can then unlink the shared library and relink his own, but that is only allowed twice a year, a restriction Vudu didn't mention in its blog post but was quickly discovered by blogger Dave Zatz. So it seems like the feature will be more useful for luring new customers to the Vudu ecosystem, rather than the digital equivalent of loaning DVDs freely to your pals.