Through a deal made with Relativity Media, Netflix will stream a number of that company's titles mere months after their DVD release. The long-term agreement is significant in that the selected films will be available with Netflix's Watch Instantly feature (now available on the iPad and soon the iPhone) instead of airing on HBO, Showtime or any other premium cable channel during the usual "pay TV window." According to a press release, this is the first time studio quality theatrical feature films will be offered in a streaming option for Netflix subscribers.

Relativity has a lot of anticipated films coming out this year, including The Social Network, The Other Guys and Charlie St. Cloud, but the first wave of titles linked to the deal include David O. Russell's The Fighter, starring Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams, and Season of the Witch, which reunites Nic Cage with director Dominic Sena. Other titles mentioned are the Strause brothers' Skyline and something called Movie 43, from writer-director Peter Farley.

This deal is another nail on the coffin for cable outlets like HBO, but it's also been a slow death. Honestly, I haven't bothered subscribing to the premium service for years, and Netflix has had much to do with that. Even before they began streaming films, I found myself more inclined to pop in a disc from the rental service than watch something on cable. Only when one of the channels has a worthy series I wonder if I should re-subscribe. Lately, shows like Entourage and Weeds are being run into the ground and I haven't gotten into anything else.

For the channels to survive, they're obviously going to have to keep up the quality of their original programming. And I wonder if this deal will also mean I won't be able to watch Weeds or Dexter on Watch Instantly any more. Showtime will probably pull them off for good. And maybe HBO will even try to keep their documentaries from being available through Netflix, or these channels will end up with exclusive deals of their own on other Hollywood features. That will be bad for anyone like me who doesn't want to have to pay for all home entertainment platforms just to have access to any and all movies.

Can't there be more deals like the Netflix/Starz agreement? I'm not entirely sure how theirs is set up, but a lot of movies are available through Watch Instantly because they're also part of the Starz Play on-demand service. It might have confused things for the ratings of Party Down, unfortunately, but otherwise I've enjoyed having those films and series at my disposal without having access to Starz' cable channels.

In other Relativity Media news, Deadline has also learned the company, which currently sells distribution rights to the studios, is looking to become a mini-major and distribute films itself. Seems like in general Relativity is trying to avoid the big brand, old fashioned release outlets and reach out more directly to their audience. Maybe the Netflix partnership is only a stepping stone before they simply set up their own streaming service?