The US online video rental service Netflix is to launch in the UK and Ireland in early 2012.
Netflix confirmed its first move into Europe on Monday, six years after shelving previous plans to launch in the UK.
British and Irish film fans will be able to subscribe to Netflix for a monthly fee – probably about £5 a month – to rent an unlimited number of TV shows and movies to stream online. The company did not reveal exact pricing for subscribers.
Netflix is the most popular film subscription website in the US, with more than 25 million users in its domestic market, Canada and Latin America.
Since it launched in 1997, Netflix has delivered DVDs by post as well as allowing viewers to stream films online. Netflix will offer online streaming only in the UK and Ireland, it is understood.
The UK launch will put Netflix in direct competition with Amazon's LoveFilm, which has more than 1.6 million subscribers in the UK and Europe, and Google-owned YouTube, which launched film rentals for British users earlier this month.
Netflix charges US users $7.99 (£5) a month to stream an unlimited number of films and TV hits, including Mad Men and The Walking Dead. LoveFilm has five different price models, ranging from £4.99 a month to £19.39 a month, based on how many DVDs users want to rent at the same time.
In the US, Netflix has increasingly moved to compete with the large TV networks, including CBS and Fox, by acquiring the rights to high-quality drama such as Kevin Spacey's House of Cards directly from producers and distributors, meaning they can be aired in the so-called "first-run window".
Some US broadcasters responded to this new competition by hiking the prices of their licensing deals with Netflix, meaning some films including The Social Network have had to be pulled from the streaming site.
A tumultuous year for Netflix shares has wiped $7bn off the company's market capitalisation since early April, to $5.7bn on Monday.
The Netlfix chief executive, Reed Hastings, reversed the company's much-criticised plans to split its DVD-by-post and online streaming service into two separate companies earlier this month. In September, Hastings apologised on the company's official blog for the way it handled a rise in subscription prices that prompted a backlash from some users.
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