By Alistair Barr
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc said on Friday that it struck an exclusive deal to distribute seasons of the hit TV show "Downton Abbey" to members of its subscription-based video streaming service.
Beginning June 18, Amazon's Prime Instant Video service will be the exclusive subscription service for streaming Season 3 of "Downton Abbey," as part of a new content licensing agreement with PBS Distribution, a unit of The Public Broadcasting Service.
The online retailer said that later this year, no digital subscription service other than Prime Instant Video will offer any seasons of "Downton Abbey."
The phenomenally successful British period drama, now in its third season, has become both a critical success and a cult favorite among its many U.S. fans.
Written by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes, the series follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants at an impressive country estate in the early 1900s.
Prime Instant Video will continue to be the exclusive subscription home through Season 4 and, if produced, Season 5 of the show, the company added.
The deal is the latest effort by Amazon, the world's largest Internet retailer, to expand in digital content and take on Netflix Inc, the leading online video subscription service in the United States.
Amazon is spending heavily on licensing deals for movies and TV shows to attract more viewers to Prime Instant Video. The service is offered free to subscribers of Amazon Prime, the company's broader online shopping subscription program, which costs $79 a year for two-day shipping in the United States.
Netflix and rival Hulu Plus, owned by Comcast Corp, News Corp and Walt Disney Co, currently offer some seasons of "Downton Abbey."
As of July 1, no "Downton Abbey" seasons will be available on Netflix, according to a person familiar with the agreement between Amazon and PBS.
By obtaining exclusive rights later this year to stream "Downton Abbey" on Prime Instant Video, Amazon is hoping more people will sign up for its broader Prime service. When that happens, shoppers often spend more on Amazon.com, analysts say.
Amazon's choice of "Downton Abbey" was likely driven by an analysis of buying behavior by existing customers, a strength of Amazon's.
The company noted that Seasons 1 and 2 of the series are the most-watched TV seasons of all time on the Prime Instant Video service already.
"Our Prime customers have spoken," Brad Beale, director of digital video content acquisition for Amazon, said in a statement. "The series is consistently in our top most watched TV shows each week."
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)