Walmart might be the next player in the subscription service game. The company is considering creating a streaming service to compete with Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, according to The Information. The service hopes to capture consumers in America’s heartland.
Walmart executives think their customers, especially those in middle America, would like a lower-cost service; their idea is to charge potential customers below $8 a month in contrast to Netflix, which has had rising costs and now ranges between $8 and $14 a month, and Amazon, which charges $8.99 a month. Walmart is also mulling over creating a free service supported by advertisements.
Walmart’s discussions about a subscription service aren’t final, but if the talks result in a concrete plan, it would be the company’s next step toward complete consumer domination. Walmart already houses restaurants, nail salons, vision centers, money services and banks inside its supersized stores. Walmart has already tried to tap into the VOD market with Vudu, but Vudu would be small potatoes compared to a bonafide subscription service that offered more than just movies on demand but included TV offerings, as well.
If Walmart’s subscription service becomes a reality, what type of original content could we get? If the company wants to cater to middle America, how would that content look? According to a 2016 Business Insider article citing data from Kantar Retail’s ShopperScape, Walmart’s average shopper is “a white, 51-year-old female with an annual household income of $56,482.” However, as Forbes reported this year, Kanter Retail has stated the average customer base is shrinking and the company must figure out a way to attract a more affluent clientele. Also, according to Walmart’s 2017 diversity stats, 43 percent of its associates, 31 percent of its managers and 21 percent of its officers are people of color, which includes African-Americans.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillion has described Walmart as a “technology company,” so creating subscription service would be a logical step forward. However, if the average customer is seen as white, middle-aged and from middle America, there’s a fear the content we could receive from Walmart would be lacking in diversity, which would not only fly in the face of its diverse workforce but would also fly against what Nielsen has said about the popularity of shows with diversity among non-white audiences.
In a 2014 interview with Adweek, Katherine Wintsch of motherhood consultant firm The Mom Complex said, “Everyone’s been so shocked that [A&E’s] Duck Dynasty does so well, or [MTV’s] Teen Mom, but that’s America. That’s who lives in this country and shops at Walmart. I get frustrated when people go, ‘Oh, it’s a train wreck.’ It’s not a train wreck. It’s people who look and act like them.” This might sound like a mean quote, but it also reflects some of the most popular titles people bought from Walmart, according to the company’s 2013 consumer report. Among the titles listed were Game of Thrones, The Bible, The Walking Dead and Duck Dynasty.
Even though the report from Walmart is several years old, it might put us in the ballpark of the type of content Walmart might greenlight. One thing in common with all of these shows is that diversity is lacking. In the Nielsen report about diversity’s success on television, much of that success stems from millennial viewership, who consistently want more narratives about people different from them and storylines that differ from their own experiences. If Walmart wants to capture middle America, would the millennial effect be considered?
All of this is conjecture. We’ll see what goes down if Walmart makes its subscription service.