Netflix DVDs

When people think of Netflix these days, they think in terms of streaming content. In fact, it’s become commonplace to refer to Netflix as a “streaming service.” But don’t forget, when Netflix first launched, it relied solely on physical media, sending DVDs and Blu-rays to subscribers in the mail. While most subscribers have cut ties with the physical media end of the company, others have held fast. To this date, there are at least 3 million people still renting Netflix DVDs.

It’s hard to believe, but Netflix has been around since 1997. In 1998, Netflix launched itself as an online DVD rental store, offering around 925 titles available through a pay-per-rent model. It was the online equivalent of a video store, in other words. You would rent a film online, and Netflix would physically mail it to your place of residence.

By 1999, Netflix changed things up – they dropped the pay-per-rent model and switched to a monthly subscription. The company remained physical-media driven until the mid-200s, when, in 2007, they started officially offering movies via a streaming service. Since then, the streaming side of Netflix has eclipsed the physical, but that doesn’t mean subscribers are ready to give up on DVDs.

According to a report in Variety, at least 3 million people still rent Netflix DVDs to this day. Netflix doesn’t seem entirely thrilled with this idea. Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos tells Variety, “We never spent one minute trying to save the DVD business.” And in 2011, Netflix tried to spin-off their DVD service into a completely new entity called Qwikster. The move didn’t go over so well, and Netflix abandoned their Qwikster idea in less than a month.

Now, Netflix’s DVD and Blu-ray service persists under DVD.com, which still bears the familiar Netflix branding. And while Netflix wants to lean heavily into the streaming side of things, their physical rentals still turn a profit. As the Variety report states,  the 3 million DVD renters “contributed $53 million to the company’s profits during its most recent quarter.”

I know that physical media has become an oddity for many, but I remain firmly in the pro-physical media camp. Sure, streaming is easier – movies and TV available at the press of a button! But believe it or not, Netflix’s DVD.com offers a far better selection than their streaming service – at least in terms of older, non-Netflix original films. Netflix has fully embraced original programming, producing their own movies and TV shows. In the process, the streaming availability of other titles has dwindled considerably. But titles that aren’t available to stream are available to rent. Users need to make a decision: pay for two different services – streaming and physical – or pick one or the other.

At least…for now. While the DVD rentals bring in money, and while millions of people still rely on them, profits have declined.  Per Variety, “Netflix has lost approximately 190,000 DVD subscribers every quarter for the past two years.” If this trend continues – and there’s every reason to suspect it will – Netflix will likely cut ties with the DVD side of things by 2022.

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