NBCUniversal, owner of cable channels like MSNBC and USA and the Universal Pictures movie studio, plans to launch a free streaming service next year, joining the growing list of media companies providing programming directly to viewers online.

The service will be supported by advertising, though it will also have an ad-free option available for a fee, Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal said Monday. The company plans to “retain rights to certain titles for its new service,” suggesting some movies and shows will no longer be available to rivals like Netflix Inc. NBC said its parent Comcast and sister company Sky will offer the product.

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Virtually all of Hollywood’s biggest studios and many of the largest pay-TV providers offer or plan to offer a streaming service, making the industry look a lot like the early days of railroads, when operators laid competing tracks side by side in a kind of business free-for-all. A shakeout seems certain at some point.

Netflix is the unquestioned leader in streaming, with more than 130 million paid subscribers. But the pay-TV industry has responded by offering lower-cost packages of live channels delivered over the web, like Sling TV and AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV Now.

Walt Disney is crowding into the business with two streaming services — the already launched ESPN+ and the soon-to-follow Disney+. Disney is also set to become majority owner of Hulu, a live and library service in which Comcast and AT&T Inc. are also investors. AT&T plans three streaming options of its own.

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