RIP red envelope: Netflix is ending its DVDs-by-mail program after 25 years

Movies by mail are going the way of silent films.
The end of an era. DepositPhotos

It’s time for the credits to finally roll on Netflix’s signature red envelopes. After 25 years of delivering DVDs to the doors of movie fans across the country, on Tuesday the company announced that they are finally shutting down their movie-by-mail feature. 

“Those iconic red envelopes changed the way people watched shows and movies at home — and they paved the way for the shift to streaming,” the company’s co-chief executive Ted Sarandos told the New York Times. “To everyone who ever added a DVD to their queue or waited by the mailbox for a red envelope to arrive: thank you.”

The service began in March 1998 with a shipping of Tim Burton’s classic Beetlejuice. By 2010, 20 million people were subscribed to the service, which was around the same time that The Blind Side, Netflix’s most ordered DVD, first came out. The company now says that their final round of DVD shipments will hit the post on September 29. 

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There isn’t an official count of the number of folks still devoted to the movie-by-mail system that made Netflix the household name it is today, but there are still fans out there waiting patiently for their latest screening. “There are titles you can’t find elsewhere. Their library was just huge compared to any sort of streaming option,” Ann Silverthorn, a retired tech writer and “DVD-by-mail” influencer, told the Washington Post. “I really enjoyed being able to see the trailers at the beginning of each disc. I would get so many ideas of new old movies that I might like to see and I’d write them down and sure enough, they’d be in their catalogue.”

As sad as it is to let go of many films that are otherwise tricky to find on streaming platforms, the revenue from DVD rentals has dropped in recent years, from $182.3 million in 2021 to $145.7 million in 2022. Meanwhile, another revenue-saving move, the crackdown on password sharing, has been delayed from “late Q1 to Q2” in the US (password-sharing rules have already hit Netflix accounts in Canada, New Zealand, Portugal, and Spain earlier this year, however). 

“While this means that some of the expected membership growth and revenue benefit will fall in Q3 rather than Q2, we believe this will result in a better outcome from both our members and our business,” the company said referring to the password sharing crackdown. 

As for those red envelopes, the company mailed more than 5.2 billion discs to enthusiastic viewers over the last quarter of a century.