Netflix’s Exit From the DVD Business Is Bad News for Film Buffs

This will make more classic films virtually impossible to see

Netlix envelopes
An era draws to a close...
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you don’t recall, Netflix got its start renting DVDs by mail, but as more and more of the company’s business has focused on streaming, its connection to that concept has grown more complex. Over a decade ago, Netflix explored spinning off its physical media rental business under the name Qwikster, which prompted no small amount of pushback. And now, the company has revealed plans to drop physical media rentals entirely.

As Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos announced this week, the company planned to wind down the service later this year. “Our goal has always been to provide the best service for our members but as the business continues to shrink that’s going to become increasingly difficult,” Sarandos wrote. “So we want to go out on a high, and will be shipping our final discs on September 29, 2023.”

Cinephiles — this writer included — were saddened by this news. An impromptu discussion at The Reveal found plenty of film buffs discussing their own feelings on the announcement. But one data point stood out while reading about the impending end of Netflix’s DVD business: an Associated Press article (via NPR) revealed that Netflix’s DVD business brought in $145.7 million last year, with estimates that the program has over a million subscribers.

On one hand, yes, that number has been shrinking over the years. On the other hand, that is still a sizable amount of both money and subscribers, and it begs the question of what a company solely focused on this could do.

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The idea of an upstart DVD-rental-by-mail company arriving on the scene in 2023 is, shall we say, less than likely. But that’s a shame — there are still plenty of great films that, for whatever reason, are not available for streaming or digital rental.

To cite but one example: David Lynch’s 1990 film Wild at Heart, starring Laura Dern, Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe. The film features an acclaimed director and cast, and it’s still part of, as the saying goes, the discourse — including being cited on the podcast You Must Remember This. You can rent it on DVD via Netflix for now; after that, who knows? Multiply that situation by hundreds and you get a sense of what’s lost when digital isn’t one option of many for viewers to choose from, but is the only one remaining.

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