Netflix Sends Fond Video Farewell To Its DVD-Shipping Past

After 25 years of shipping DVDs to customers in its signature red envelopes, Netflix is hitting the “stop” button today on that legacy operation. (It just released a nostalgic short video look back, watch it above if you want to recall the journey from the dial-up modem days.)

After opening its doors in 1998 (Beetlejuice was the first title shipped, per a company blog post), the company surpassed 200,000 households in its first year and was on a fast track from there. Powered by the surge in broadband adoption, the rise of the DVD format and the complacency of brick-and-mortar retailers like Blockbuster, Netflix was soon shipping millions of titles, setting a record in 2011 with 4.9 million in a single day. By the end, more than 5 billion shipments had been recorded.

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Once streaming began in 2007, and rivals like Hulu and Prime Video also arrived, physical media were entering eclipse (the iPhone launched that same year) and Netflix began to gradually phase out discs. Reconciling its physical business with streaming initially daunted company management. An infamous move to split the company into two, creating a new, disc-focused entity called Qwikster, cost the company billions in market value before wiser heads prevailed.

The red-envelope promise of Netflix’s initial disruptor days took on an entirely different meaning in the later years, with constant rotations of film and TV titles on and off various streaming services often frustrating viewers. Cinephiles also would note that Blu-ray has held up as the most reliable way to experience high-definition technology, given the compression and other compromises required in the streaming realm. Beyond the tech aspects, having access to physical titles – even those served up by a former Silicon Valley startup via red envelope – offered at least some hope of staying a step ahead of the machines. Maybe there’s a movie in that.

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