Currently, there remain around 3 million subscribers to the original, DVD-focused arm of Netflix—you remember, the red envelopes that your parents received in the mail, back in the 2000s?
That may sound like a lot, but here’s another number: 130 million. That’s how many streaming customers Netflix can now boast, and now it becomes a bit more clear why the DVD plan might soon be going the way of the dodo, according to a new piece in Variety that looks back on the history of the company.
The only reason that the DVD service has remained around as long as it has, is that it’s actually the most profitable-per-customer branch of Netflix’s service. The remaining 3 million DVD.com subscribers together contributed close to $53 million to Netflix’s profits during its last quarter, which equals out to $17.66 in profit per member, per quarter. Netflix has refined DVD.com since its inception to be even more smooth and profitable, although it’s no secret how, as any subscriber could tell you—they’ve eliminated vast chunks of their former DVD collection.
Still, it’s also clear why 3 million people are still subscribed—even after being neutered in recent years, the Netflix DVD library is ridiculously vast, and far bigger and more detailed than the streaming library ever will be. DVD.com subscribers (of which I have been one for more than a decade) tend to be cinephiles; people looking for obscure movies that the primary streaming service would never bother to acquire or display. For $7.99 a month, you can get access to an extremely detailed video store of sorts … but it seems like that opportunity won’t last forever.
According to Variety, the DVD arm of Netflix’s operation continues to hemorrhage customers each year, at the rate of 190,000 every quarter in the last two years. At that rate, the service would be down to under 2 million by the end of 2019, and entirely out of customers by 2022, suggesting that Netflix would have no reason to keep the service going. One has to wonder who the subscribers are who are only now canceling their DVD accounts—seniors, perhaps?
For the sake of my own obscure film watching, this is disheartening news. Should the Netflix DVD library disappear, it will be the end of what was once one of the greatest and most complete compendiums of popular film on Earth. The streaming side of Netflix styles itself as a premium TV channel, rather than an ever-growing archive of movies—the service has plenty of benefits, but comprehensiveness is not one of them. As a customer, I can only hope that the DVD service levels out and finds a working balance.
It’s either that, or say goodbye to those red envelops forever.