Netflix's once-revolutionary DVD-by-mail service officially ends Friday, marking the end of an era in home entertainment. Netflix's five remaining distribution centers in California, Texas, New Jersey, and Georgia will mail their final discs this Friday.
People forget that long before it became a streaming giant, Netflix launched in 1998 as a per-rental DVD-by-mail service before offering a monthly subscription option in 1999. As streaming became increasingly popular, movies on disc fell out of favor — at least as rentals.
The Associated Press reports that the fewer than one million people who still subscribe to Netflix's DVD-by-mail service may keep the final discs that arrive in their mailboxes. Netflix will gift some disc devotees up to 10 discs as a “thank you” for sticking with the mail service, which used to have 16 million subscribers. By contrast, Netflix's streaming service currently has 238 million subscribers and generates $31.5 billion in annual revenue.
The First DVD Mailed by Netflix Was Beetlejuice
Marc Randolph was Netflix's CEO when the company mailed its first DVD, Beetlejuice, in 1998. “It is very bittersweet,” says Randolph. “We knew this day was coming, but the miraculous thing is that it didn’t come 15 years ago.” Randolph concocted the DVD-by-mail service in 1997 with Reed Hastings, who succeeded Randolph as CEO. At that time, DVDs were still in their infancy and there were only about 300 titles to choose from. At the peak of Netflix's DVD-by-mail service, the company boasted more than 100,000 movie and TV titles.
The Associated Press reports, “Netflix quickly built a base of loyal movie fans while relying on a then-novel monthly subscription model that allowed customers to keep discs for as long as they wanted without facing the late fees that Blockbuster imposed for tardy returns. Renting DVDs through the mail became so popular that Netflix once ranked as the U.S. Postal Service’s fifth largest customer while mailing millions of discs each week from nearly 60 U.S. distribution centers at its peak. But Randolph and Hastings always planned on video streaming rendering the DVD-by-mail service obsolescent once technology advanced to the point that watching movies and TV shows through internet connections became viable.”
“From day one, we knew that DVDs would go away, that this was transitory step,” says Randolph. “And the DVD service did that job miraculously well. It was like an unsung booster rocket that got Netflix into orbit and then dropped back to earth after 25 years. That’s pretty impressive.”
Robert DeSalvo is a professional writer and editor with over 25 years of experience at print and online publications such as Movieline, Playboy, PCH, Fandango, and The A.V. Club. He currently lives in Los Angeles, the setting of his favorite movie, Blade Runner. Robert has interviewed dozens of actors, directors, authors, musicians, and other celebrities during his journalism career, including Brian De Palma, Nicolas Cage, Dustin Hoffman, John Waters, Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore, Bryan Cranston, Anne Rice, and many more. Horror movies, sci-fi, cult films as well as gothic, postpunk, and synthwave music are what Robert geeks over.