The last red envelope has been sent. Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service has officially gone the way of Betamax and Blockbuster.
On Friday, Netflix shut down the subscription model that launched the company in 1998.
“Back in those days, that’s all it was,” says Austin Kokel, an avid TV and film watcher who works at the CBS affiliate station in Myrtle Beach, S.C. — and part of the small but passionate cinephiles who preferred physical media to streaming, and would spend hours adjusting their queues to prioritize shipments of DVDs in the signature packaging.
“I will admit, some of it is just the nostalgia of getting envelopes in my mailbox. There’s something still just Christmas morning-y about opening the mailbox and having a couple envelopes sitting there waiting for me to just tear open and start watching. Some of it is, you know, special features, stuff like that. … I’ve enjoyed the ride and I’m sad that it’s over.”
German director Uwe Boll, known for such films as House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark and BloodRayne, bemoans the loss of physical media, especially the special features.
“My commentaries are loved by my fans,” he says. “With a DVD or Blu-ray, you have something for real like a book on your shelf. A hard drive with saved movies can crash. And on DVD can be extras you never see online, like ‘making ofs’ and directors commentaries.”
The DVD service for Netflix has been steadily shrinking as more viewers shift to streaming, which launched in 2007. Netflix announced in April that it would be shutting down its five remaining distribution centers in California, Texas, Georgia and New Jersey, and fans have been in mourning ever since. As the now-exclusively streaming service states on its website, it was “an incredible 25-year run.”
Originally, Netflix was asking subscribers to return their DVDs; but the company reversed course and decided, as a final gift to the holdouts, that they could keep their last eight rentals.
“Once I saw that, I strategically rearranged my queue,” says Kokel. “I just kind of went, ‘OK, well if I can get this for free and this for free and this for free.’ I mean, yes, technically I’m paying for them but it’s a bonus.”
Among the discs Kokel will keep: St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray, and El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
Kokel isn’t the only DVD fan who are marking the end of an era by sharing their final picks.
In its prime, Netflix had more than 20 million DVD subscribers who could choose from more than 100,000 titles.
By 2011, the company had split its DVD business from the streaming side, which now has 238 million subscribers worldwide, according to the company, generating billions of dollars in revenue.
Last year, the DVD service only brought in $146 million, according to the Associated Press.
Boll said digital services are nice but many will always love their physical media. “People say you can save all your digital films in a cloud, so if a hard drive is destroyed you can load them up again… and it’s true. But, a DVD on the shelf, you walk by and you remember and you watch a film again.”
For his part, Kokel is concerned about what will happen with the leftover DVDs.
“I worry what Netflix is going to do with this giant collection of hundreds of thousands of discs, where they are all going to go. And if you ask me, to borrow an idea from Indiana Jones, they belong in a museum to some degree or the Library of Congress or something,” he mused.
Netflix declined to comment to Yahoo, but a rep shared a blog post proclaiming “the end of an era.”
“In 1998, we delivered our first DVD. This morning, we shipped our last,” it says. “For 25 years, we redefined how people watched films and series at home, and shared the excitement as they opened their mailboxes to our iconic red envelopes.”
And for those keep track at home, the company revealed on its social media accounts the very first — and the very last — DVD shipped out: respectively, Beetlejuice and the Coen brothers’ 2010 remake of True Grit.