Walmart desperately wants to bridge the entertainment and e-commerce divide with Amazon.
The world’s largest retailer Oct. 11 announced a strategic entertainment joint venture with Eko, a developer of interactive video technology. The pact includes plans to develop original, interactive content that Walmart claims will help it connect with customers in “new and more meaningful ways,” with the goal of driving deeper and more frequent engagement.
The content, which could range from cooking shows to interactive toy catalogues, will go beyond the basic personalization available today, allowing viewers to participate in and shape stories as they are being told, according to Walmart.
The joint venture – dubbed W*E Interactive Ventures – expands Walmart’s entertainment ecosystem. The retailer already has a longstanding physical and digital video presence, through stores, websites, the digital platform Vudu.com and the recently launched eBook platform, Walmart eBooks, with Rakuten Kobo.
“Our partnership with Eko will help us accelerate efforts to deepen relationships with customers and connect with new audiences in innovative ways and is one part of an overall entertainment ecosystem we’re building,” Scott McCall, SVP of entertainment, toys and seasonal, Walmart U.S., said in a statement.
Since 2010, Eko has pioneered the future of entertainment, alongside partners like Sony Pictures Entertainment and MGM Studios. Eko has received prior funding from Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital, Warner Music Group, Samsung, Walmart, and others, and has more than 15 patents for its technology. In connection with the joint venture, Walmart has agreed to participate in Eko’s next funding round.
“The future of video entertainment is interactive, and this joint venture is a huge step towards bringing this future to life,” said Yoni Bloch, CEO of Eko. “In 2018, all forms of media are personalized except for live action video.
The partnership will be led by Bloch, with input from several industry experts. Tribeca Productions co-founder Jane Rosenthal will serve as strategic advisor. Rosenthal, producer of films such as Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, About a Boy (film and series), Wag the Dog and the upcoming Scorsese film The Irishman, helps create a bridge for both established and emerging artists looking for an outlet for their work.
Nancy Tellem, chief media officer and executive chairwoman of Eko, will serve on the board of the joint venture. Prior to joining Eko, Tellem spent more than 25 years in television including time as president of CBS Network Television Group.
Tellem most-recently spearheaded Microsoft’s short-lived attempt at creating original TV shows and movies at shuttered Xbox Entertainment Studios.
“During my career in broadcast television, I’ve seen how traditional media has been transformed by technology and have long believed that technology would be the key to creating more engaging entertainment experiences,” said Tellem. “Audiences are hungry for immersive entertainment, and storytellers are embracing this new technology in creating a new type of story narrative that deeply engages the viewer. Now is the time for Eko and interactive content to take center stage.”