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In battle with Amazon, rival Walmart pushes deeper into entertainment

Michael Corkery & Brooks Barnes | NYT/ 12 Oct 18 | 02:25 AM

Walmart is investing in a JV with Eko, a start-up that focuses on interactive storytelling

Walmart is going Hollywood. The world’s largest retailer, in a constant battle with its rival Amazon, said this week that it was teaming up with two entertainment companies, one old school and the other on the industry’s cutting edge. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has agreed to create short-form original series for Walmart’s ad-supported streaming service, Vudu. Those are expected to debut early next year. It is the first of many studios that Walmart expects to work with in creating new content for Vudu, a spokesman for the retailer said Wednesday.

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Walmart is also investing in a joint venture with Eko, a New York start-up that focuses on “interactive storytelling," a video format that allows viewers to control the plot of commercials and television episodes.

The investment with Eko totals $250 million, according to two people briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the deal. It is thought to be the largest bet on the interactive entertainment niche, which has long tantalised producers as a potential gold mine but has never gained widespread adoption.

“We are not trying to become a studio," said Scott McCall, a senior vice president for entertainment, toys and seasonal at Walmart. “It is our hope that we will work with studios to reimagine what new content looks like."

Walmart’s foray into entertainment comes as the company, based in Bentonville, Ark., seeks to expand its business beyond brick-and-mortar retailing. With most of the nation saturated by its big-box stores, Walmart has been experimenting with a flurry of new ventures, including starting a high-end concierge service in Manhattan and acquiring India’s leading e-commerce site, Flipkart. Walmart’s substantial investment represents a validation for Eko, which was co-founded by the 37-year-old Yoni Bloch, who described himself  as “a relatively famous singer in Israel."

He has also been a judge on the Israeli version of “American Idol."

 ©2018 The New York Times News

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