Here’s an obscure fact you might not necessarily be familiar with, given how thoroughly it’s been buried under the steady accrual of dust and time: Netflix got its start by mailing people DVDs. Like, through the post office. Yes, Netflix. Yeah, the BoJack Horseman and Orange Is The New Black people! They’d just mail ’em out to ya, in these neat little red envelopes! It was bizarre.
Is bizarre, rather: Variety took a brief look at the streaming giant’s history this week—most notably, Reed Hastings’ game-changing (and surprisingly early) understanding that he’d one day need to shift his company’s focus to streaming video—and learned that, while online memberships are obviously the biggest part of the company’s business model these days, there are still 3 million people holding onto its DVD side. (Split off several years ago into the still-Netflix-owned DVD.com.)
And while that’s a very small number compared to the 130 million or so guzzling down the company’s streaming offerings right now, it does still mean that there 3 million of those little red envelopes out there, delivering people, say, the next disc of the second season of Battlestar Galactica. (Watch out for “Black Market,” folks; it’s a real stinker.) That’s not inconsequential for the company’s bottom line, either; according to Variety, those DVD plans—which start at $7.99 a month—can account for as much as $53 million in quarterly profits, a not-inconsiderable chunk of change.
It’s worth noting that there are a number of good reasons to hold on to the old ways, though: Netflix’s DVD selection is typically substantially better than that afforded by its various streaming licensing deals, for one thing. There’s also the fact that the Netflix DVD business serves portions of the population that can’t necessarily take advantage of the rapidly increasing internet speeds that made the company’s streaming offerings viable, either because of cost or locale. Those folks might want to start reevaluating their media consumption habits soon, though: DVD subscriptions have fallen gradually over the years, and it looks like they might reach unsustainably low levels for the company as soon as 2022.