Peter Kafka

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Is Walmart Ready to Try Web TV Again, With Vudu’s Help?

vudu-logo-001Walmart has tried twice to deliver movies and TV shows to its customers. Is it ready to try again?

Maybe. Sources tell me Web video start-up Vudu is in “meaningful” acquisition discussions, and industry executives believe Walmart is the likely buyer.

Vudu executives declined to comment. I’ve lobbed a call into the Walmart (WMT) press center but haven’t heard back.

It’s a deal that makes some sense on paper: Vudu is one of many services that give consumers a chance to rent or buy movies over the Web, but it hasn’t gotten much traction. “It’s a beautiful product and a really great service, in need of distribution,” says a person familiar with the company.

And Walmart has tried video delivery twice before but backed away each time. Acquiring a tech team at the right price could help it make a third effort.

After trying for two years to compete with Netflix’s DVD-by-mail business, Walmart gave up in 2005 and agreed to send its customers directly to Netflix (NFLX). In 2007, with the backing of all the big studios and tech help from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), the retailer tried to launch a download service, a la Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes. But it abandoned that effort in less than a year.

Meanwhile, sources say Vudu has been seeking a buyer–in the form of either a big-box retailer or an electronics manufacturer–for some time without success. Internet executive Mark Jung ran the company for a year but left in November 2008; founder Alain Rossmann became interim CEO when Jung left and has kept the title since then.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Vudu has raised at least $21 million from Benchmark Capital and Greylock Partners. I’m told that when the company was marketing itself last fall, it was looking for a sale price of $50 million or more. But it may not have much leverage to command a premium.

Vudu started out by marketing an Internet-connected box that consumers plugged into their TVs, but that offering seemed to underwhelm customers (as well as All Things D‘s Katie Boehret). It is now focused on building that technology directly into TVs and Blu-ray players and marketing itself as a Netflix-like service.

The company’s supposed strengths are a video compression technology that makes it feasible to stream movies in high definition and a peer-to-peer architecture that cuts down the cost of delivering large files. UPDATE: Vudu reps tell me they no longer use P2P for file delivery.