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Netflix acquires first original TV series

Netflix, the Internet TV service that has cable companies shaking in their boots, is making the next big leap. The company said last week that it has purchased the streaming rights to “House of Cards,” a 26-episode series, before it's shown on network TV.

The deal marks a bold new step for Internet TV and propels Netflix into a powerful new competitive direction with traditional media outlets. Most of today's Netflix content has previously aired on TV or is older movie content. The New York Times reported that the deal “astonished television industry executives because it effectively makes Netflix a network like ABC or HBO.”

“House of Cards” is a new series starring Kevin Spacey, who is also executive producer. It is not yet in production and will debut in 2012.

Netflix is growing fast in an era of cord cutters threatening cable TV. It began 2011 with 20 million subscribers. Some analysts are predicting that by the end of the year, it will equal the size of HBO, which has about 28 million subscribers.

Netflix has become the main target for cable companies fighting the loss of paying subscribers who are migrating to the Internet for cheaper TV options. HBO, owned by Netflix competitor Time Warner, has refused to sell the Internet service the streaming rights to its original programming, such as “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” because it doesn't believe the extra money from licensing fees would offset the cost of helping a rival.

“House of Cards” is a high-profile project backed by the production company Media Rights Capital II LP. Besides featuring Academy Award-winner Spacey in the starring role, the series pilot will be directed by filmmaker David Fincher, whose credits include “The Social Network,” an Oscar nominee for best picture this year. The show is based on a novel of the same name about a British politician who wants to succeed Margaret Thatcher as the prime minister of Britain. It is set in the United States.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been aggressively bidding for the exclusive streaming rights to more content in recent months. In its biggest streaming deal so far, Netflix last year agreed to pay nearly $1 billion in a five-year deal for the first rights to show movies and TV episodes from the pay-TV channel Epix, which is owned by Viacom, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Lions Gate Entertainment.

Netflix has refused to comment publicly on the proposed deal.