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Netflix continues to cut important indie deals

FilmDistrict, an indie company co-founded by one of the producers of "The Departed" and "Aviator," will release first-run films on Netflix's streaming service.

Netflix has struck a licensing agreement with a hot new independent studio that means more first-run movies for subscribers of Netflix's streaming service.

FilmDistrict, an indie studio co-founded by one of the producers of "The Departed," will begin distributing films through Netflix's streaming service next year. Warner Bros.

FilmDistrict, the company co-founded by Graham King, who produced such Oscar-winning as "The Departed" and "Aviator," has agreed to license first-run theatrically-released films through Netflix, the companies announced today.

Among the first flicks Netflix is expected to receive rights to under the deal are "Drive," director Nicolas Winding Refn's adaptation of the James Sallis' crime tale starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, and the science-fiction film "Lockout," starring Guy Pearce and co-written by Luc Besson, who directed and wrote "The Fifth Element."

In the press release, Netflix and FilmDistrict made a point of noting that the distribution deal was nontraditional.

"Major motion pictures that traditionally would have been licensed to premium cable channels will flow instead from FilmDistrict to Netflix...beginning in 2011," the companies said.

Netflix's success at attracting subscribers has caused a stir in Hollywood. There's a debate going on now among the major film studios and TV networks about whether Netflix is a savior or a destroyer.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief of content, told CNET recently that the video-rental service's No. 1 competitor isn't cable. It's online piracy. Some managers at the studios agree and believe that Netflix is an effective way to provide consumers with an inexpensive, simple, and legal way to access movies. They fear that without services such as Netflix and Hulu, people would acquire films illegally from file-sharing sites. People from this camp have helped Netflix sign several significant licensing agreements with major studios this year.

But some people in the movie who business argue that cable pay-TV providers generate far more money for filmmakers than Netflix and that's who the studios should be backing. They note that there's an increasing amount of evidence that Netflix's streaming service is pulling customers away from cable. These traditionalists would like to see the studios help slow Netflix's growth by limiting the amount of movies and shows the online merchant is able to stream to subscribers over the Web. (Read this interview with Big Champagne CEO Eric Garland, who goes into depth about the studios' internal debate on digital distribution.)

Netflix, meanwhile, continues to boost the number of its subscribers and strike licensing deals outside the big-studio system. For the quarter ending September 30, Netflix said its subscriber numbers had grown by more than 5 million over its figures from the same period last year.

Netflix also signed a long-term licensing agreement in September with Nu Image/Millennium Films. That indie studio is scheduled to release next year "Son of No One," a crime drama starring Al Pacino, Katie Holmes, Tracy Morgan, Ray Liotta, and Juliette Binoche.