Japan's Rakuten to Take on Netflix, Amazon's LoveFilm in Europe

"Oz the Great and Powerful" will be among the VOD offerings on the new European service.

The e-commerce giant plans to roll out its Wuaki.tv streaming service across the continent.

COLOGNE, Germany – Japanese e-commerce group Rakuten is going head-to-head with VOD giants Netflix and Amazon's LoveFilm in Europe, announcing plans to roll out its video streaming service Wuaki.tv across the continent during the next two years.

Wuaki, the Spanish VOD platform that Rakuten acquired last year, plans to make the U.K. its first new European territory, with more to follow.

On its English-language Facebook page, Wuaki was offering early-bird U.K. subscribers its film and series streaming service for $4.50 (£2.99) a month. That compares to about $9 (£5.99) per month and $7.50 (£4.99) per month for Netflix and LoveFilm, respectively, in Britain.

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Wuaki said it will provide U.K. customers with thousands of hours of content, including titles from Disney, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. as well as local providers including the BBC. Highlights including Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful and cult BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who.

The U.K. market is one of the most attractive -- and crowded -- in Europe for VOD. In addition to Netflix and LoveFilm, British rivals such as pay-TV giant BSkyB and online catch-up offerings including the BBC's popular iPlayer service compete for user eyeballs. Technologically, Wuaki will start behind Netflix and LoveFilm as its beta service in Britain initially won't support mobile tablets or smart TVs.

It will be interesting to see where Wuaki goes after Britain. Scandinavia, with its rich, well-connected population, would be an obvious choice, but both Netflix and LoveFilm are already there, too. It's a similar story in the Netherlands, the next European territory on Netflix's hit list. In Germany, a potentially huge market, there is only LoveFilm and local competitors, including Maxdome, a VOD service run by German commercial TV giant ProSiebenSat.1.

France also is an option, but regulatory issues there, which require VOD services to hold back films a full two years after their theatrical release, have kept international players from plunging into that market.