Netflix Expects DVD Business To Continually Decline, Won't Rent Video Games

Remember when Netflix tried to make a separate company to handle distribution of rental DVDs by mail? The company is trying to forget that little strategy, from which it beat a hasty retreat. And, as it turns out, Netflix may be thinking of eventually forgetting DVD altogether.

At the time when Netflix announced that it would split the DVD-by-mail business off into Qwikster, CEO Reed Hastings proclaimed the company's dedication to DVD, promising to once again turn marketing attention to DVDs, and that "our goal is to keep DVD as healthy as possible for as many years as possible."

So how's that working out? During an earnings call yesterday, Hastings said it won't be putting marketing muscle behind DVD services after all, and that "we expect DVD subscribers to decline steadily every quarter forever." Oh, and video game rentals, which were also announced with the Qwikster plan? Not happening.

Over the past few months, Netflix has been forced to accept studio deals that mandate a month-long window between the street date of a DVD and the date at which Netflix can send discs to subscribers. And now that window is increasing to 56 days for Warner Bros. releases, and other studios could follow.

During yesterday's earnings call, Netflix chief financial officer David Wells downplayed the significance of those expanding windows, saying,

Well, our DVD consumers, including hybrid and DVD-only, continue to be weighted towards catalog. It's less than 30% in terms of the shipment mix that are new-release oriented. When we went to 28-day, we didn't see a big shift because, again, that mix was about the same then. And it's actually gone slightly down. It hasn't gone slightly up as you might surmise from more concentration to DVD subscribers.

But is the lack of concern over release windows really due to the fact that the company sees DVD as a fading media? Pushed on the question of DVD subscribers, Hastings said,

There's just DVD subscription to DVD subscriptions, which are 11 million at the end of last year, are going to decline steadily essentially forever.

Hastings also said "we have no plans to enter video games," countering a statement that was made last year.

(While, for us, the comments about DVD rentals and video games are of the highest interest, for investors the big news out of yesterday's report is that 220k Netflix subscribers were added in the fourth quarter of 2011. That's leading to a little Netflix stock price surge today.)

There's also a weird wrinkle in the Warner Bros. delay window plan. The LA Times points out today that Netflix uses won't even be able to add WB movies to their disc queues until a 28-day window is over. That's a pretty strange thing; as most Netflix users are aware, discs that are not currently available can still be queued via the 'save' option, which helps keep user queues current.

All of this suggests a power shift away from Netflix back towards studios, as Netflix accepts less than favorable DVD deals. And that power shift cements the idea that Netflix doesn't believe in DVD as a media any longer, with all its priority going towards streaming media and original content.