Many of Netflix’s customers only know the streaming model – but the company started renting DVDs in 1998 under the leadership of Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph. A year earlier, the two tested their idea of sending DVDs by mail. The deal ended yesterday, Friday – for the last time, the film discs were sent forever in a red envelope; Netflix doesn’t want them back.
Five billion DVDs in red envelopes
According to reports, Netflix has shipped more than five billion DVDs to its subscribers over the past 25 years. Between 2007 and 2009 alone, a billion red envelopes are said to have ended up in customers’ mailboxes. According to The Verge, users overwhelmed the US Postal Service by returning 1.6 million DVDs every day.
Without the DVD, however, the business model would not have been possible in this form. The predecessor, the VHS cassette, was too susceptible to damage and too large to store for the Netflix founders – apart from the problem with rewinding. At the time, the company advertised the elimination of penalties for late submission. For a monthly fee, you could keep the DVDs for as long as you wanted – new films could only be rented after they were returned.
Machine learning “long before it was cool”
Netflix relied on the latest automation technology and machine learning “long before it was cool.” Former Netflix DVD technical director Paul Johnson explained that they had to find a way to automate things because they weren’t able to keep up with growth. The machines would have packed up to 4,500 discs per hour and pre-sorted them for shipping. Returns were later automated and even then the machines recognized when a DVD was returned in the wrong case.
But that’s finally over and subscribers don’t have to send their last DVD delivery back to Netflix and can keep it. Customers could register on the associated website for a bonus delivery of up to ten DVDs, it said, but they had no influence on the content. With the surprise package, the streaming service not only saves itself on disposal, but also says goodbye to its customers.
Of the 16 million customers, just under a million users are said to have used the service until recently. Certainly some of them will bemoan the different languages and soundtracks compared to the streaming services.
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