When Netflix Came In The Mail: Goodbye To 25 Years Of Red Envelopes

Remembering when Netlix came in the mail; On September 29, 2023, Netflix decided to discontinue its DVD mailing service in favour of its streaming business. Users of the service were allowed to keep the DVDs they had received, marking the end of a legendary era that spanned 25 years. Here's how the memorable Netflix red envelopes and their DVD mailing system began.

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Netflix, the global entertainment giant we know today, had humble beginnings. Founded by Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings in August 1997 in Scotts Valley, California, this revolutionary company's journey is nothing short of remarkable. In this article, we explore the fascinating history of Netflix, from its inception to its transition from DVDs to streaming, as it shaped the entertainment landscape for a quarter of a century.

Reed Hastings, a computer scientist and mathematician, co-founded Pure Software, which was acquired by Rational Software for a staggering $750 million in 1997, marking the largest acquisition in Silicon Valley history. His partner in this groundbreaking venture, Marc Randolph, had previously worked as a marketing director for Pure Software. The seeds of Netflix were sown during their carpool conversations while travelling between their homes in Santa Cruz, California.

Marc Randolph admired Amazon's business model and aimed to find a large category of portable items to sell over the internet. Initially, they considered selling and renting VHS tapes but dismissed the idea as too expensive and delicate for shipping. Their eureka moment arrived with the introduction of DVDs in the United States in early 1998.

To test the concept of selling or renting DVDs by mail, they mailed a compact disc to Reed Hastings's home in Santa Cruz. When the disc arrived intact, the two visionaries decided to embark on their journey in the $16 billion home-video sales and rental industry.

Reed Hastings is often quoted as saying that the spark for Netflix came after he was fined $40 at a Blockbuster store for returning a copy of "Apollo 13" late, although this claim has been disputed by Marc Randolph.

With an investment of $2.5 million from Hastings, Netflix launched in 1997 as the world's first DVD rental and sales website. With 30 employees and a library of 925 titles, nearly every DVD published at the time, the company surpassed 200,000 households in its first year.

In a pivotal meeting with Jeff Bezos, Amazon offered to acquire Netflix for an impressive sum of $14 to $16 million. Initially considering the offer fair, Marc Randolph was ready to accept it, but Reed Hastings, who owned 70% of the company, turned it down, concerned about the looming competition from Amazon.

Netflix initially employed a per-rental model for each DVD but introduced the game-changing monthly subscription concept in September 1999. By early 2000, the per-rental model was phased out, allowing the company to focus on a flat-fee, unlimited rental model without due dates, late fees, shipping and handling charges, or per-title rental fees.

During the dot-com bubble in September 2000, Netflix, which was then facing losses, offered to sell the company to Blockbuster for $50 million. Blockbuster's CEO, John Antioco, perceived it as a joke and declined the offer, dismissing the dot-com craze as overblown. The aftermath saw Netflix laying off one-third of its 120 employees.

In late 2001, DVD players became a popular holiday gift, igniting demand for DVD subscription services, which were experiencing rapid growth. Netflix went public on May 29, 2002, selling 5.5 million shares of common stock at $15.00 per share.

In 2003, Netflix was issued a patent by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, covering its subscription rental service and several extensions. That same year, Netflix posted its first profit, earning $6.5 million on revenues of $272 million.

By 2005, Netflix offered an astounding selection of 35,000 different films and was shipping 1 million DVDs daily. In 2006, Netflix introduced the Netflix Prize, a $1,000,000 reward for the first developer to create a video-recommendation algorithm that could outperform Netflix's existing Cinematch algorithm by more than 10%. In 2009, the prize was awarded to team "BellKor's Pragmatic Chaos."

Over the past 25 years, Netflix's iconic red envelopes have witnessed countless rentals. Morgan Freeman and Cate Blanchett reigned as the most-rented actor and actress, with their films "The Bucket List" (2007) and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008) topping the popularity charts.

Beetlejuice was the first DVD to be mailed out by Netflix in a red envelope on the 10th March 1998. The most popular film title to be shipped out in a red envelope was The Blind Side. Netflix supported 20 main genres of film available for shipping and 530 sub genres.

There were a total of 40 million unique subscribers of Netflix's red envelopes over the years. Their first 1 million subscribers were reached in 2003 and by 2005 there were 1 million DVDs shipped daily which equals 3 Eiffel Towers if stacked according to Netflix itself. The most DVDs shipped by Netflix in one day were 4.9 Million in 2011.

The only non-red envelope shipped by Netflix was a Green Shrek envelope in 2004. The first Blu-Ray disc to be shipped by Netflix was in 2006.

In 2013 Netflix shipped 4 Billion red envelopes which according to their press office, is enough envelopes to wrap around the world 48 times.

On September 29, 2023, Netflix decided to discontinue its DVD mailing service in favour of its streaming business. Users of the service were allowed to keep the DVDs they had received, marking the end of a legendary era.

To commemorate the final days of Netflix's red envelopes, a popular billboard on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles read, "DVDs will always be in our DNA." It was a fitting tribute to a significant part of Netflix's history. Interestingly, the first billboard in September 2021 hinted at Netflix's DVD past, stating, "Don't Give Up On Your Dreams. We Started With DVDs."

To add a touch of nostalgia, the Netflix shop introduced a pre-order of a red envelope-inspired Sleeping Bag, allowing users to "tuck themselves in like a DVD."

Netflix's journey from its inception to becoming a global streaming giant is a testament to innovation, resilience, and visionary leadership. The red envelopes may be gone, but their legacy will forever remain in the DNA of a company that transformed how the world watches movies.

Netflix Red Envelopes - When Netflix Came In The Mail: Goodbye To 25 Years Of Red Envelopes

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