When Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) signed a video-streaming deal with high-quality film farm Miramax, there was nothing exclusive about that contract. Today, Miramax diluted the value of that pact a bit by also hooking up with Netflix rival Hulu.

The Hulu contract is eerily similar to what we know about Netflix's Miramax deal: The 700-title Miramax library will rotate through Hulu's catalog rather than show up all at once, and the agreement is small enough to keep the price tag secret. The main difference this time is that a handful of films will show up in Hulu's ad-supported services, too -- a first for the privately held studio.

Although hardly ideal from the Netflix point of view, this contract underlines how the movie industry is changing. Hulu and Netflix are but the first of a new wave of innovative media-wrangling models, and both have convinced at least one fairly major studio that their similar-yet-different operating models are worth something. "Making our films available via premium digital distribution channels is extremely important to Miramax," said Miramax CEO Mike Lang. That's right -- he used the "P" word.

The next step in this evolution might be taken by Hulu first and Netflix later. Three of the five largest studios share ownership in Hulu, namely Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS), Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA) NBC Universal, and 20th Century Fox parent News Corp. (NYSE: NWS). A Miramax-style deal with any of these giants would break down the final levees protecting the incumbent distribution model and its tightly regimented time-windowing system. And since these guys own Hulu, you have to assume that Hulu gets to establish the big-studio standards for Netflix and others to follow.

Direct deals between digital distributors and the studios themselves will be the preferred and standard model going forward. Hulu and Netflix are simply leading the way into a new era. I'm sure that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) are watching the process closely, ready to leap into action as soon as that first mega-studio sets a reasonable pattern.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. See his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com, Walt Disney, Netflix, and Apple, creating a bull call spread position in Apple, and buying puts in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.