October 5, 2023 | ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT | By Michaela Ocko

Each week, one of the most anticipated parts of my childhood was when my family received the red Netflix envelope in the mail. I was always excited to rip it open and discover what movie my parents had picked out for our family movie night. 

It’s hard to imagine now, but the streaming giant Netflix wasn’t always one of the many services available through Television broadcasters and online subscriptions. Netflix originally gained its following through digital versatile discs. And while the method of mailing an actual DVD may seem somewhat old school compared to our streaming-crazed world today, companies like Netflix have provided consumers with DVDs for decades. 

After 25 years of supplying extensive choice in DVDs, Netflix’s innovative mailing service came to an end on Sept. 29. When Netflix initially began its DVD shipping business, it was a nuanced addition to entertainment technology. Members were able to curate a queue of movies they wished to watch, and the first movie on the list would arrive in the mail a couple days later.

At the time, the convenience of receiving a DVD in the mail was revolutionary. Not only was it accessible, but the variety of movies and shows was unheard of. Members could choose from thousands of options which contrasted the more limited selection in a local video store.

Netflix’s warehouse in California supplied the DVD distribution. The company used to process over 1.2 million DVDs each week, bringing in millions of dollars in revenues. However, with a steady decline in DVD sales, the need for the warehouse and Netflix’s DVD service came to an end. Prior to its closure, the facility had six dedicated employees rather than the initial 50. The significant reduction in staff mirrors the substantial drop in desire for DVDs. People want a more accessible mode of watching their favorite movies which doesn’t necessarily include DVDs nowadays.

As online streaming platforms such as Hulu, Max, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime and others become more popular, the need for DVDs has dwindled. In the early 2000s DVDs were all the rage. According to an article by CNBC, “DVD sales reached $16.3 billion and were 64% of the U.S. home video market.”

Now that number is substantially smaller at $2.2 billion in 2018. Today, there are few companies that still distribute physical DVDs; the most popular one remaining in my hometown is Redbox. I anticipate that as the consumption of content continues to evolve, we will eventually phase out all physical forms of media, and only have on demand streaming platforms. 

While I do appreciate the ability to easily view all my options for TV shows and movies right in front of me, the pure excitement of receiving a red envelope was unbeatable. Although I no longer use dvd.com, I understand the loss of those who were avid enjoyers of the DVD service. The act of physically picking and receiving a movie can feel much more sentimental than scrolling through the Netflix homepage. As the company continues to evolve, I hope they find alternative ways in which they can engage more personally with their customers, because nothing can outdo the classic red envelopes.  

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