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Netflix to expand to U.K., Ireland in early 2012

As its streaming service establishes a foothold in Europe, Netflix will find itself competing with Amazon-owned Lovefilm.

Netflix is planning to expand the availability of its streaming service to the U.K. and Ireland in early 2012, the company announced today.

Consumers who access Netflix will be able to stream both movies and television shows from the service, though the company has stopped short of providing information on its library. Netflix has also not commented on which devices will support its streaming service in those countries, but it did assure customers that it will be available on computers, mobile devices, and products that connect to their televisions.

Netflix's plans to expand to the U.K. and Ireland are part of a broader growth strategy for the company. Last year, Netflix brought its then-U.S.-only service to Canada. In September, it expanded to 43 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Expanding to Europe is arguably the most important move Netflix has made yet. By bringing its streaming service to the U.K. and Ireland, Netflix will be competing squarely against Lovefilm, a company that provides both streaming and rentals of movies and video games. At last count, Lovefilm has 1.7 million customers across the U.K., Germany, Sweden, and elsewhere in Europe.

But Lovefilm is just a pawn in what will become a multicontinent battle between Netflix and Amazon.

Earlier this year, Amazon acquired Lovefilm to expand its streaming presence in Europe. Amazon launched its own streaming service, called Prime Instant Video, last year.

Although Amazon is trailing Netflix in terms of overall content--it has 12,000 videos, compared to a reported 20,000 on Netflix--the online powerhouse has done a fine job of acquiring new content. Just last week, Amazon acquired PBS content to bring its total up to 12,000 videos. That news came just a few weeks after Amazon announced that it had inked a content deal with 20th Century Fox.

Netflix, on the other hand, has been having some trouble in the content space. Although it has added some television programming recently, most notably from Discovery Communications, which owns the Discovery Channel and TLC, among other networks, the company has not been able to ink a key deal with Starz. In fact, earlier this year, Starz, which owns the streaming rights to Disney and Sony Pictures movies, announced that it was walking away from negotiations with Netflix and would pull its content from the streaming service at the end of February when their current agreement is over.