Eric signed up for Netflix in 2005 – attracted by the convenience. Instead of going to Blockbuster’s local branch to rent a movie, if you wait a few days it would arrive in the mail without you having to leave your home. And there was a huge selection of titles – much wider than a small local rental company. “I could sit at home and get almost any movie I wanted,” says the US-based project manager.
By 2007, Netflix delivered its billionth DVD ̵
But Eric, now 41 years old, kept getting DVDs and Blu-Rays in the mail – sometimes he would look at them and send them back quickly, sometimes they would sit unopened for months. To most of us, the idea of deciding if you want to watch a movie and then waiting for a rental copy to be physically sent to you seems almost comical. But Eric is far from being alone. Of all the huge numbers that mark the rapid growth of Netflix, this is perhaps the most surprising: there are still more than 2 million people in the US who receive Netflix DVDs in the mail.
Some subscribers appreciate the greater variety of options available on DVD. As Netflix has expanded its streaming service, the selection of good movies seems to have shrunk (even if the total number has increased) as the company focuses on original TV shows and documentaries.
For some customers, like Jennifer from San Francisco, DVDs are the best way to get new releases as soon as possible. “There were more titles and newer movie releases than on premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime, and I wanted to see more of them,” she says – although getting the most popular titles has sometimes been a long wait.
“There are a lot more choices than the streaming service,” says Eric, who also has a Netflix streaming account, as well as Hulu, Amazon Prime, and the occasional Disney +. “Streaming is great when I want to sit on the couch and watch something. However, streaming services may not be very good when you have a particular movie to watch. “
Internet speeds are another factor. Some rural parts of the US still have poor internet infrastructure and streaming is eating up allowances for customers who may have a monthly data cap.
For movie buffs, image quality is another consideration. “There’s still compression in streaming movies,” says Eric, who was just watching Matrix Reloaded on Blu-ray and has Lawrence of Arabia and sunshine in his queue. “I sometimes notice compression artifacts when streaming movies and they are distracting. I also find that certain films are very visually appealing, and I prefer Blu-ray ones. “
None of the people we spoke to knew anyone who was still receiving DVDs in the mail, and the service’s subscriber numbers are falling at the rate of half a million a year. The company continues to have good DVD rental sales – nearly $ 300 million in 2019, according to a recent SEC filing – despite the fact that it was backed by the $ 20 billion it made streaming over the same period. Subscribers earned is dwarfed.
It is unclear how long Netflix will continue to run its DVD service. In 2011 an attempt was made to convert it to a separate brand (Qwikster) where subscribers would have paid separately for DVDs and streaming. The company had to do an about-face after customer outcry – it lost half its stock value in two months and lost 800,000 subscribers. In December 2019, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said he was in no hurry to get rid of it – and he could see it take at least five more years.