Sears Follows Other Big Retailers, Launches Digital Download Store

The market for online movie downloads and rentals is getting a bit more crowded this week, as Sears announced it has launched its own video service, Alphaline Entertainment. Sears follows other big retailers, including Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) and Best Buy, which have moved into offering their own digital media services in the past year.

The question is whether digital services offered by retailers will become also-rans, with the digital movie market already carved up by the first-movers in the market, Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s digital store. The plan seems to be to encourage consumers who buy electronic devices at a particular retailer, whether online or at a bricks-and-mortar store, to keep coming back to that retailer for their content needs.

Sears says its digital store, like its rivals, will have movies available for purchase the same day they’re released on DVD or Blu-Ray. But a quick look at Alphaline’s current front page shows that Sears’ new service isn’t yet offering any clear advantages over its better-established competitors. Alphaline is advertising movies like The Town, Salt, and The American, all available for purchase at $19.95 or for rental at $3.99. Those prices match iTunes on the rental price but are $5 more expensive than iTunes’ digital purchase price of $14.95.

The service was launched in collaboration with Novato, Calif.-based Sonic Solutions, and uses Sonic’s same RoxioNow platform that powers digital download serices for Best Buy and Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI). Last week, Sonic announced that it will be acquired by Rovi Corp. for $720 million.