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Netflix Meets With French Officials to Talk Possible Local Launch

DOWN: Reed Hastings
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is rumored to be planning multiple European launches for 2014.

The online video giant is believed to be eyeing a launch next year in Europe's third-largest TV market.

Netflix representatives have met with the staff of French president Francois Hollande as the video streaming giant explores a possible launch in Europe's third-largest market, according to French media reports.

Netflix already is available in some 40 countries outside the U.S., including in parts of Europe, such as Britain, the Netherlands and the Nordic region. For years, there have been rumors that Netflix could launch in France, but the country's system of rules regulating film distribution and windowing have complicated the issue.

Reuters quoted an official at the president's office as saying Netflix "wanted information about the legal conditions that would affect its potential arrival in France." The official added that Netflix execs were also visiting Germany and other European countries.

Under current French law, a film cannot be offered on a subscription video-on-demand service until three years after its theatrical release.

The system, put in place to protect French cinemas and film producers, has been blamed for crippling attempts to launch video streaming services in France. Canal Play Infinity, the subscription VOD service launched in 2011 by France's largest pay TV company, has been largely a nonstarter.

The windowing laws do not apply to TV series, which have become an increasingly important part of Netflix's online offerings.

A recent study commissioned by the French Culture Ministry recommended shortening the window for subscription VOD, and discussions are underway with  content owners and media companies on changing the law.

Netflix faces major challenges as it tries to roll out its highly successful U.S.-based service globally. The video streaming market in most international territories lags far behind the U.S. and is more fractured, with local competitors, such as Amazon's U.K.-based LoveFilm or Sweden's Vlodder offering similar services.

A Netflix rep declined to comment on the reports or a possible launch in France.

Georg Szalai in London contributed to this report.