HMV, Britain's largest music and video retailer, is launching a beta version of its video-on-demand rental service today (Thursday) in the hope of offsetting slumping in-store sales. The retail chain said that it is partnering with FilmFlex, a joint venture between Sony Pictures TV and Disney that operates as a Middleman -- it calls itself a "white label service" -- to provide online movie distribution, marketing and promotion for other British media companies. (Its other partners include HMV rival Virgin Media and commercial broadcaster Channel 4.) HMV is entering an increasingly competitive marketplace in the U.K., challenging Amazon's Lovefilm and Blinkbox, launched by the supermarket chain Tesco. Nevertheless, it says, it will offer more new videos than any of its competitors. HMV is also getting the jump on Netflix, which recently announced that it plans to launch a video-on-demand service in the U.K. early next year at about the same time that HMV plans to lock in its service so that customers will be able to access movies on a variety of devices. Meanwhile, Netflix, which has been criticized for expanding internationally before its domestic streaming service becomes profitable, saw its shares go into another tailspin on Wednesday as they closed at $68.50, a new 52-week low.
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