US video rental and online streaming giant Netflix are preparing to launch European branches in early-2012, starting with the UK & Ireland and Spain, according to Variety.
25 million people across the US, Canada and Latin America use Netflix, which has become the dominant rental service in North America since launching in 1999. Here in the UK, Netflix will be competing with European market leader LoveFilm (owned by Amazon), Blockbuster, YouTube and iTunes. The US firm already has brand recognition, given how often Netflix is referenced in pop-culture, but how many Europeans will switch to this US-based service? Given the fact LoveFilm still have a long-running dispute with Universal over licensing costs—meaning that post-2009 Universal titles are still unavailable, or on DVD but not Blu-ray—I can certainly see an opportunity for Netflix to swoop in offering a more comprehensive catalogue. (I've still to see Public Enemies and The Invention Of Lying for this very reason.)
It may also help if Netflix streaming is made available in the UK on Playstation 3, Xbox, Nintendo DS, Android and iOS (which it the case in the US). Here in the UK, Amazon's LoveFilm is currently only available through PS3 and iOS, although an Xbox launch is due soon.
Of course, Netflix aren't in terrific shape just now. $7bn was wiped off the company's market capitalization since April 2011, reducing it to $5.7bn. This is because Netflix recently chose to start competing with US broadcasters, by buying first-run rights to shows like the remake of British drama House Of Cards. In response to this unforeseen rival, US broadcasters upped the price of their licensing deals with Netflix, forcing the likes of The Social Network to be dropped from the site's catalogue. And then there was the ill-advised decision for Netflix to split into two separate companies (Netflix for postal rentals, Qwikster for online streaming) because the former is becoming too expensive to run. This was met with such a tidal wave of disapproval from customers the plan was hastily scrapped, but it was something of a PR disaster.
What do you think? Will you sign up for Netflix UK when it arrives, simply because of its reputation? Will you join Netflix from a different rental company you're happy with? Or will you stay as you are, unless Netflix are noticeably cheaper, offer more titles, and/or have a more wide-ranging streaming lineup? Do you hate the idea of a big American company coming over and perhaps squashing the UK-based LoveFilm?