Netflix has announced that on September 29, they’re shutting down its longtime DVD rental service. (Which, yes, still exists.)
As many will recall, Netflix was launched in 1998 as a DVD-rental-by-mail service. It soon became very popular, eventually putting the likes of Blockbuster out of business. Netflix’s red envelopes became a mainstay in mailboxes everywhere in the aughts and early 2010s.
Of course, it’s in the late aughts and early 2010s that Netflix’s DVD service peaked. With the launch in 2007 of Netflix’s now-famous streaming service, the DVD rental side was soon displaced. (Netflix’s streaming service also helped lead to a decline in the popularity of DVDs in general.) At first, Netflix offered both streaming and DVD rentals under the same account, but in 2011, they split the two apart into two separate services. After a very short-lived, ill-fated attempt to rebrand the DVD service under the awful name “Qwikster,” it got rebranded instead under the name “DVD.com.” As you can see below, streaming quickly eclipsed DVD rentals in revenue.
You will find more infographics at Statista
Why shutter Netflix’s DVD service?
Netflix’s DVD rentals now make up a small fraction of its business. Netflix’s streaming service has 232.5 million customers, while the DVD rentals make up between 1.1-1.3 million subscribers. Between that, the cost of running a DVD-by-mail service, and a decline in the popularity of physical media, I can see why Netflix has decided they don’t need to rent discs anymore.
There’s also been a rise in digital rentals (via iTunes, etc.). Digital rentals offer immediacy, plus not needing to pay for an ongoing monthly service.
Redbox also still exists as a DVD rental service, with kiosks found everywhere. Like digital rentals, there’s no monthly fee to pay. It’s also a lot faster to rent a film from a kiosk than wait for a disc to arrive by mail.
Finally, there’s the state of the United States Postal Service. Years of budget restraints, plus mismanagement under Trump-era appointees, has left mail delivery slower now than during Netflix’s DVD rental heyday. Waiting a lot longer for discs to arrive by mail isn’t appealing to most people, when it’s easier to just go to a Redbox kiosk or fire up iTunes/Amazon to rent a movie.
Alternatives to Netflix’s DVD service
Redbox is probably the most popular service for DVD rentals. Of course, even Redbox is dealing with the rise of streaming/digital and decline in DVDs (they’ve launched their own digital/streaming service). However, Redbox kiosks are still commonplace through the country.
Redbox has also tried making improvements to its service, including offering digital on-demand rentals and purchases. There’s also an enhanced service, “Redbox+,” that offers a limited selection of free rentals for an annual fee.
The public library
Another options for DVD rentals is your local library. Most libraries offer DVDs and Blu-rays for checkout. While the most popular films often are checked out, you can place them on a hold list for when they’re available.
Finally, there’s buying DVDs. As I wrote before, there’s some arguments in favor of physical media: owning a favorite movie/TV show forever; not having to pay a monthly fee for a streaming service; reselling or lending your DVDs; and purchased DVDs/Blu-rays can’t vanish due to corporate whims. (Though DVDs can and do go out of print.)
Why DVD/digital video releases matter
That said, “buy your favorite movie/TV show” isn’t always an option. Some of the material being purged from streaming services like HBO Max or Disney+ has never had DVD or digital video releases. Thus, unless said material shows up elsewhere (on a third-party streaming service, etc.), these TV shows and films are essentially instant “lost media,” outside of piracy.
Some point out that this is how TV used to work before DVDs made complete TV show releases popular. However, there’s a reason we don’t want to go back to the 80s/90s. Back then, unless a TV show got a VHS release or reached syndication, it was basically gone after cancellation. Also, VHS releases were usually just “best of” tapes with only a handful of episodes. The cost and physical size of videotapes made complete series releases for most shows unfeasible.
There’s no technological reason for a TV show or movie to vanish like this anymore. Hollywood’s been removing shows from streaming services to save money on paying residuals. Ironically, streaming residuals are one of the reasons why Hollywood writers are (as of this writing) on strike. Never mind disappearing content also just hands everyone a list of TV shows and movies to pirate, despite Hollywood also throwing a fit over piracy.
“Mailing my last DVD ever?” by Global X is licensed under CC BY 2.0. (Flickr / cropped from original)