Netflix expanding to Spain, UK next year

Those days of watching hours of Netflix together may soon end.

Netflix might be having trouble keeping its customers happy at home, but that’s not going to slow its international expansion plans. In addition to its plans to expand to 43 countries in Latin America later this year, the company will also launch its streaming service in Spain and the U.K. as early as the first quarter 2012, according to a report in Variety .

Netflix launched its first international streaming service in Canada last year, and announced an ambitious plan earlier this month to tackle 43 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the second half of 2011. Now Variety reports Netflix has already approached European film distributors about its plans to expand to the continent.

Interest in Spain and the U.K. markets makes sense, if only because by next year it will have both English and Spanish-language services in place. But unlike its venture to Latin America, where existing streaming operations haven’t taken hold, Netflix could face some stiff competition from existing services in Europe.

Lovefilm, which was bought by Amazon  earlier this year, already has a robust streaming service in place in the U.K., Germany and the Nordics (Sweden, Denmark and Norway). And the U.K. market has a number of incumbent TV services that also have a streaming component. Take, for instance, the BBC’s wildly popular iPlayer, or BSkyB’s satellite service, which allows viewers to stream live and on-demand TV over the web and to a growing number of mobile and connected devices.

Meanwhile, in Spain, there are less visible streaming competitors, which could create a lower barrier to entry. But Variety notes the market is also known for being a hotbed of video piracy. At the same time, offering a low-cost alternative is one way Netflix could possibly help studios fight piracy there.

The news that Netflix is being even more aggressive on the international front comes as it faces criticism from existing users in the U.S. The company’s announcement earlier this week that it’s separating its DVD-by-mail and streaming service plans has been met by widespread disapproval. That said, while a number of its existing customers say they might quit, expanding more aggressively in international market could more than make up for slower growth at home.

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