Netflix’s DVD-by-Mail Service Closes After 25 Years

Netflix, once synonymous with red-and-white DVD envelopes arriving in mailboxes across the United States, is bidding farewell to its iconic DVD-by-mail service after 25 years.

 (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This move comes as the streaming giant continues to focus on its digital streaming platform, which has revolutionized the entertainment industry.

The curtain is finally coming down on a service that disrupted the video rental market and paved the way for Netflix’s dominance in the streaming space. The last remaining DVD distribution centers, located in California, Texas, Georgia, and New Jersey, will ship out their final discs to fewer than 1 million subscribers on Friday, marking the end of an era.

For many subscribers like Amanda Konkle, who has been with Netflix’s DVD service since 2006, this closure brings a sense of nostalgia. “It’s sad,” she remarked while awaiting her final disc, “The Nightcomers,” a 1971 British horror film starring Marlon Brando. “Getting these DVDs has been part of my routine for decades.” Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings sits in a cart full of ready-to-be-shipped DVDs. (Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In a gesture of appreciation to its loyal customers, Netflix is giving some of its remaining DVD diehards up to 10 discs as a parting gift. Subscribers like Amanda Konkle, who have watched hundreds of titles over the years, eagerly hope to be among the chosen few.

At its peak, Netflix’s DVD service boasted over 20 million subscribers with a library of more than 100,000 titles. However, in 2011, Netflix made the strategic decision to separate its DVD and streaming businesses. Today, its streaming platform boasts 238 million subscribers worldwide and generates $31.5 billion in annual revenue, whereas the DVD service brought in only $146 million in revenue last year.

Netflix co-founder and former CEO Marc Randolph, who introduced the DVD-by-mail concept with Reed Hastings in 1997, expressed mixed feelings about the service’s closure. “It is very bittersweet,” Randolph said. “We knew this day was coming, but the miraculous thing is that it didn’t come 15 years ago.”

In the late ’90s, when Randolph and Hastings conceptualized the service, DVDs were a nascent technology with only about 300 titles available. To test the feasibility of mailing DVDs, Randolph sent a CD containing Patsy Cline’s greatest hits to Hastings in a pink envelope via the U.S. Postal Service, costing just 32 cents for the stamp.

Netflix quickly gained a dedicated customer base, thanks to its innovative monthly subscription model, which eliminated late fees and allowed customers to keep discs as long as they wished. At its peak, Netflix ranked as the U.S. Postal Service’s fifth-largest customer, mailing millions of DVDs weekly from nearly 60 distribution centers.

The iconic red-and-white DVD envelopes became symbols of a “Netflix night” for many subscribers, and the service ultimately led to the downfall of Blockbuster video stores, which went bankrupt in 2010.

Even as streaming took over, some DVD enthusiasts like Michael Fusco continued to rely on the service to access rare films no longer in theaters or available in stores. Fusco, who expanded his subscription plan when Netflix announced the DVD service’s closure, watched 32 DVDs in August alone and carefully selected his final discs from over 2,400 titles he had seen during his 18 years as a subscriber.

Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings always anticipated that video streaming would eventually replace the DVD-by-mail service, which played a pivotal role in launching Netflix into the orbit of the entertainment industry. The closure marks the end of a remarkable chapter in the history of home entertainment.

Reflecting on this transition, Randolph said, “From Day One, we knew that DVDs would go away, that this was a transitory step. 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.”

As the final DVDs are mailed out and received by subscribers, a nostalgic and transformative era in entertainment draws to a close, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and adaptation.