What We'll Miss when Netflix Retires its DVDs | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

What We’ll Miss when Netflix Retires its DVDs 

Netflix made an announcement in mid-April, one that reached the inboxes of its subscribers before it appeared in the Hollywood trades: The company will be sunsetting its DVD business at the end of September. That announcement came on the eve of the company’s quarterly earnings release. 

“For 25 years, it’s been our extraordinary privilege to mail movie nights to our members all across America. On September 29th, 2023, we will ship our final iconic red envelope,” the email said. “While times have changed since our first shipment in March 1998, our goal has remained the same: to provide you with access to the broadest collection of movies and shows possible, delivered directly to your door, with no due dates or late fees.”

It’s not a surprise that Netflix wanted to move on from DVDs. In fact, back in 2011, the company had announced that it was splitting off its DVD rental business into a separate company called “Qwikster,” before scuttling that plan a month later. Over the years, per the New York Times, Netflix had shipped over 5 billion discs, but for most of the last decade, the DVD business has been something of an afterthought.

Back in 2021, in this space, I noted that the Netflix DVD business appeared to be on its last legs, during the pandemic-era time when the mail was frequently delayed. I also noticed that the library of available movies, which at one point was nearly universal, had been getting thinner and thinner, with almost no newer releases included. 

I signed up for Netflix’s disc-by-mail service in 2003 and saw it as a way to both catch up on older movies and see new ones without having to depend on Blockbuster. Enough people did the same and Blockbuster wasn’t long for the world. 

Where do the discs go?

Another question has been raised after the announcement: After the DVD business goes away, what happens to the discs? Netflix may possess the largest collection of hard copies of movies in the history of the medium. And with streaming availability not as assured as it looked a couple of years ago, many are left wondering where those discs will go. 

Will there be a liquidation sale? Or are the discs going into a landfill somewhere? Netflix isn’t saying.

Judging by my History tab, I rented 771 movies over the course of the last 20 years – the first was 1969’s Medium Cool, which I received shortly after Christmas in ’03. At one point I got three discs at a time but shifted down to 1 about a decade ago. But I confess that a single disc in a red envelope has been sitting on a shelf since last August, and I imagine I’m not the only one. 

I realize it was time for the Netflix DVD business to go. But a part of me is always going to miss it, as the way I watched a lot of movies that are important to me for the first time. 

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CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.

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