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  • Writer's pictureDigital Masters

The End of an Era: Netflix's DVD Service Comes to a Close After 25 Years

Netflix, with its vast global audience of 238 million streaming subscribers, traces its origins back 25 years to a humble DVD rental service that many may have forgotten. Today, fewer than a million loyalists continue to partake in this nearly extinct DVD rental operation, an obscure relic of the company's history. However, Netflix has decided to bring this chapter to a close, marking the end of an era. The final curtain for DVD distribution in the United States was drawn as the company's five remaining distribution centers dispatched their last DVD parcels to American customers on a fateful Friday. Remarkably, these diehard DVD enthusiasts will not be asked to return their cherished titles, with some individuals receiving up to 10 DVDs as a parting gift from a company that once boasted a staggering 16 million DVD subscribers during its peak. Marc Randolph, one of Netflix's co-founders and the chief executive during the early DVD era, expressed mixed emotions about this momentous transition. He acknowledged, "It is very bittersweet. We knew this day was coming, but the miraculous thing is that it didn't come 15 years ago." Netflix, while not explicitly disclosing its current DVD subscriber count, is estimated to have fewer than 1 million DVD subscribers, according to the Associated Press. The inception of the DVD-by-mail concept dates back to 1997 when Marc Randolph and his entrepreneurial friend Reed Hastings, who eventually succeeded Randolph as CEO, conceived the idea as a challenger to the rental giant Blockbuster's dominance. Netflix's inaugural DVD shipment, Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice," was dispatched in March 1998, and over the years, the company has mailed out a staggering 5.2 billion DVDs. Among these, the most sought-after title was Sandra Bullock's "The Blind Side." Nonetheless, even in those early days, Randolph foresaw that DVDs would eventually yield to a new era of streaming films and TV shows over the internet. In 2011, Netflix officially separated its DVD rental business from its booming streaming service, a strategic move that came a year after Blockbuster's bankruptcy, a company that had once passed on the chance to purchase Netflix for a mere $50 million back in 2000, choosing instead to compete against it. Today, the streaming juggernaut stands as a formidable force, boasting a market valuation of around $166 billion. Randolph reflected on the DVD era, stating, "From day one, we knew DVDs would go away, that this was a transitory step. And the DVD service did that job miraculously well. It was like an unsung booster rocket that got Netflix into orbit and then dropped back to Earth after 25 years. That's pretty impressive."

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