Summary:

Bad news for Netflix’s international aspirations, as Amazon-owned rival Lovefilm announced a U.K. rights deal to show 20th Century Fox movies on its streaming service. But with antitrust authorities hovering over the movies-on-demand market, things are still up for grabs.

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More bad news for Netflix’s U.K. operation: Amazon-owned rival Lovefilm has signed another one of those pesky exclusive content deals, this time with Twentieth Century Fox.

This comes less than a month after Lovefilm signed up Universal, also on a multi-year basis. Similar deals were already in place with Warner Bros, Sony Pictures and others, and now Lovefilm’s customers can look forward to streaming the likes of X-Men: First Class from March next year, while Netflix’s can’t. The TV part of the deal (which is not exclusive) kicks in earlier, with Buffy and more becoming available next month.

“It feels great to announce another major studio deal for Lovefilm,” managing director Jim Buckle said. “Twentieth Century Fox is one of the world’s leading studios, known across the globe for creating fantastic, iconic content. This partnership will give Lovefilm members access to the studio’s huge range of recent movies and the opportunity to revisit some of the best American TV series produced in recent years.”

When Buckle talks about recent movies, he does not of course mean really recent. That’s because BSkyB — in which News Corp is a controlling shareholder — has paid for so-called ‘first window’ rights with all the major studios.

The Competition Commission, Britain’s regulator, finally decided in May that this arrangement was not anticompetitive, partly because Netflix had just joined Lovefilm as a supposed rival to BSkyB. Also, the commission reasoned, consumers don’t really care about getting very recent movies as much as they want a comprehensive offering.

Which is why the deals Lovefilm is striking these days are all for the ‘second window’ – effectively one rung above terrestrial broadcast when it comes to urgency. The films that can be streamed over the service from March 2013 will have been on the big screen in the UK during 2011. It’s the kind of complexity that makes content consumption even more confusing for the average Joe, but Fox is happy:

 

“We are delighted to be partnered with Lovefilm on this new window for Fox films in the UK,” Fox EVP Gina Brogi said. “This film and series agreement enables us to give UK fans yet another avenue to enjoy the great stories and characters they have come to know and love from our studio.”

If the antitrust regulators are right, Lovefilm’s customers will be delighted with the breadth of the service’s catalog, if not its freshness. It may not be enough to tempt people away from getting their recent-cinema fix from the — cough cough — darker corners of the internet, but it certainly makes Amazon’s service even more attractive than Netflix than it already was.

Netflix said last week that it would try to outbid BSkyB for those tasty first-window rights over the next year. If it fails, it said, it will ask the Competition Commission to reconsider whether BSkyB’s deals are so fair after all.

Of course, that’s if Netflix is still around in the U.K. in a year’s time. Its movie range there is pretty skinny, while Lovefilm’s just fattened up yet again. Maybe Britain wasn’t such a great springboard for the European expansion after all.

Update: Clarification added to make it clear that even though Netflix does not have early rights on 20th Century Fox movies, it does have access to TV content. We have also corrected News Corp’s relationship with BSkyB to make clear that News Corp holds a 39.1% controlling share in the company.

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