Reed Hastings in 2010: Netflix to Deliver Last DVD Movie Rental in 2030

Netflix plans to stop delivering by-mail disc rentals on Sept. 29, about seven years earlier than it previously disclosed to Wall Street.

Thirteen years ago, Netflix was aggressively pursuing subscription streaming VOD while largely sidelining its legacy by-mail disc rental business. About 17 months later in 2011, then CEO Reed Hastings announced the short-lived Qwikster rebranding of its disc rental business —- a decision that would see the company’s stock freefall, and 800,000 subscribers depart.

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But on the streamer’s April 21, 2010, first-quarter fiscal call, Wall Street analyst Mario Cibelli asked whether Netflix still planned to deliver it last DVD rental in 2030 as oft announced.

Hastings, responded, saying he would personally deliver Netflix’s last DVD in 2030, adding he thought management’s deadline for packaged media was accurate.

“Our DVD shipments are continuing to climb throughout the country, even in the Bay Area where you see 24% of households subscribing to Netflix and our DVD shipments,” Hastings told Cibelli on the call, an excerpt of which Cibelli posted on Twitter. “DVD, Blu-ray Disc combined, are continuing to grow, so DVDs got a lot of legs here and 2030 is still the target.”

Fast-forward to April 23, 2023, and Hastings still plans to hand deliver that last DVD rental.

“Remind me to deliver you an honorary last DVD in 2030, Mario! You deserve it for your keen tracking ability,” Hastings, who is now executive chairman after relinquishing his co-CEO position to Greg Peters, wrote in a post.

No word yet who, or if anyone, will deliver Netflix’s actual last disc rental in five months.


Netflix Still Generates $410,000 Daily Renting DVDs

Netflix long ago turned a cold shoulder on its legacy by-mail DVD rental business, opting instead to focus full time on subscription streaming. The company does not include revenue from packaged media in its fiscal results, and anyone interested in renting discs has to go to a separate website to sign-up.

Netflix’s erstwhile hybrid streaming/DVD/Blu-ray Disc rental option — the cause of the company’s 50% stock plunge and loss of 8 million subs in 2011 after CEO Reed Hastings quietly tried ending the option and change the name of the DVD rental business to the short-lived “Qwikster” business model — no longer exists.

But money is money. And Netflix said it generated $35 million renting discs through the mail in the third quarter (ended Sept. 30). Through nine months of the fiscal year, the tally totals more than $112 million, or more than $410,000 a day over 273 days. The streamer stopped reporting packaged-media subscriber numbers a couple of years ago when it had about 2 million subs.

Ten years ago, Netflix’s gross profit margin renting discs topped 48%. Back then, Netflix had 8.5 million standalone disc subs, and 26.2 million hybrid streaming/DVD subs generating $271.1 million in revenue and $130.6 million on operating income.

The gap between those percentages has narrowed considerably over time as the streamer tops 223 million streaming subs worldwide. The service does not rent discs outside of the United States.

Netflix’s Mid-Year By-Mail Disc Rental Revenue Dropped 20%

Netflix’s legacy DVD/Blu-ray Disc movie rental business finished the second quarter (ended June 30) with $77 million in revenue from subscribers who choose to rent packaged-media movies through the mail. That was down 20% from revenue of $96 million during the previous-year period. The downward trend has been consistent all year. Netflix Q1 disc rental revenue fell 20% to $37 million, from $46 million in the previous-year period, as fewer subscribers choose to rent new-release movie DVDs through the mail.

The streaming behemoth no longer includes disc rental revenue with its overall streaming revenue. It stopped reporting packaged-media subscriber numbers in 2020.

Netflix Still Renting Discs Despite Accounting Indifference

Netflix has quietly stopped including its legacy by-mail DVD rental service on quarterly financial reports. The Los Gatos, Calif.-based company launched in 1997 as the first home video service delivering DVD movie rentals in the mail. At its height, Netflix was the largest single customer for the U.S. Postal Service — generating hundreds of millions of dollars in operating profit.

Now it’s difficult to find mention of packaged media on Netflix’s balance sheet. To be sure, the company still offers two standalone DVD plans. The standard option ($7.99 monthly) affords subscribers access to one disc at a time, while the premier plan ($11.99) enables two discs out at a time.

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Beginning in Q1 (ended March 31), Netflix excluded disc rental revenue from quarterly financial tallies, opting instead to list revenue as a sidebar item. In the company’s North American segment, the $2.83 billion in revenue excluded $62 million from the rental of DVD and Blu-ray Disc content. Through June 30, Netflix has generated $126 million in packaged-media revenue.

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The service generated disc rental revenue of $366 million and $297 million in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Netflix ended 2019 with 2.1 million disc subscribers, which was down 553,000 from more than 2.7 million disc subs at the end of 2018. The segment remains immensely profitable, despite management indifference. For the 2019 fiscal year, discs generated $174 million operating profit.

“They have $445 million in revenue that is from something other than streaming,” Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, wrote in an email. “Impossible to know what portion is from DVD and what is from other stuff. But they don’t report it separately.”

Netflix Dropping Disc References in Fiscal Statements

Netflix hasn’t been shy about distancing itself from its DVD by-mail rental legacy. The SVOD pioneer characterizes itself first and foremost as a digital movie/TV content producer/distributor.

In the company’s 10K filling on Jan. 29, Netflix disclosed that beginning in 2020 it would no longer reference DVD in select financial statements such as the “consolidated statements of cash flows” and “consolidated balance sheets.”

In a reclassification of financial statements, the amortization of DVD content assets is now considered “other non-cash items” within “cash flows from operating activities.” In addition, cash flows from the acquisition of DVD content assets have been downsized to “change in other assets” within “cash flows from investing activities.”

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In the “consolidated balance sheets,” DVD content assets have been relegated to “other non-current assets,” and DVD content liabilities have been reclassified from “current content liabilities” and “non-current content liabilities” to “accrued expenses and other liabilities” and “other non-current liabilities,” respectively.

Disc rental revenue in 2019 was $300 million, down from $400 million in 2018 and $500 million in 2017. More than 2 million Netflix subscribers still rent DVD/Blu-ray Disc movies.

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Finally, Netflix will no longer separate contribution profit (loss) for domestic streaming, international streaming and domestic DVD, claiming its “chief operating decision maker” (CEO Reed Hastings) no longer reviews the data independently — due in part because Netflix increasingly obtains multi-territory or global rights for streaming content. Hastings apparently now focuses on the company’s global operating margin as the primary measure of profitability and basis for allocation of resources.


Netflix Lost 553K Disc Subs in 2019, Turned $174M Operating Profit Anyway

Renting DVD/Blu-ray Disc movies remains big business (and profitable) for Netflix.

The SVOD Behemoth launched in the late 1990s as a pioneering by-mail DVD movie rental company, taking on former brick-and-mortar heavyweights Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery with a revolutionary Internet-based service.

While the company has put all its efforts into streaming video since 2007, it continues to cater to millions of DVD/Blu-ray Disc rental subscribers. Blockbuster & Co. shuttered operations years ago.

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Netflix ended 2019 with 2.1 million disc subscribers, which was down 553,000 from more than 2.7 million disc subs at the end of 2018. The service remains immensely profitable, generating $37.3 million operating income on revenue of $68.4 million. For the fiscal year, disc rentals generated $174 million operating profit on revenue of $297.2 million.

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Despite Indifference, Netflix Reigns Supreme in By-Mail Disc Rental

Netflix has all the luck.

The erstwhile by-mail disc rental pioneer’s brand name ushered in the ability for consumers to rent DVD or Blu-ray Disc movies online and receive the disc by mail 24 hours later.

Disc rental has been an unrelenting cash cow for Netflix, generating operating income and crazy margins most companies would call out in an earnings report.

Not Netflix.

The unit reported a $44 million profit on revenue of $71.8 million in the most-recent fiscal period. That revenue represented 98.9% of all by-mail disc rental revenue in Q3 in the United States, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

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Instead, Netflix has largely turned a cold shoulder to packaged media for about as long as it has been streaming video — 10 years. In fact, co-founder/CEO Reed Hastings in 2011 infamously tried to spin-off the disc business into the short-lived Qwikster brand — a move that sent Netflix shares freefalling 75%.

Hastings was forced to retract the decision — initially announced in a Sunday blog post from his home — as a corporate misstep.

“It is clear that for many of our members two Web sites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs,” Hastings wrote at the time.

To be sure, the number of Netflix subscribers renting movies and TV shows by mail is dwindling. Subscribers are down nearly 18% to 2.3 million from 2.8 million last year. Revenue through nine months of the fiscal year is off about 15% from the previous-year period at $136.6 million.

One day, by-mail disc rentals from Netflix will be history, quietly removed from “consolidated statements of cash flows” on the balance sheet without so much as a thought. That day might be marked by some in the media as transformational, the end of an era, or just ignored.

Indeed, when Netflix shipped out its 5 billionth disc rental in August, it tweeted the milestone — from a separate corporate account.