Netflix will stop DVD rentals and the red envelope is toast

Netflix Envelopes
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's really the end of the road for Netflix's DVD rental business. In September, Netflix will cease mailing those iconic red Netflix envelopes filled with DVD movies that devoted subscribers once collected three at a time. It's truly the end of a bygone era.

If you're reading this and wondering what the heck we're talking about and why Netflix felt the need to announce the change on Tuesday, perhaps you are one of the 209 million Netflix streaming service subscribers, but you never rented a physical DVD from Netflix.

Be kind, rewind

It has been 16 years, after all, since Netflix launched its on-demand video streaming service that almost immediately upended its once-lucrative DVD shipping business. The DVD business turned 25 this year.

That transition was not without controversy. Initially, Netflix offered the streaming service as an option within the DVD-shipping plan. You could stream all you wanted but only hold onto one DVD at a time. Before the advent of streaming, having three Netflix DVDs at once was not uncommon. The whole goal was never to be without fresh, consumable DVDs in the house.

As home broadband expanded, people realized that being able to stream anything they wanted meant there was no need to figure out in advance what you might want to have mailed to your home. Netflix was like the Zappos of home movie watching. The allure of DVD delivery quickly faded.

Instead of riding the wave to an obvious fortune, Netflix panicked and took a detour or two. First, it tried doubling the price of the combined streaming and delivery service (from roughly $7.99 a month to $15.99). Then, Netflix tried to euthanize the DVD shipping service by spinning it off into a separate service known as Qwixter.

In a way, this was smart, it allowed Netflix to focus on streaming, but since it was still only 2011, the public wasn't ready. Netflix back peddled and recombined the two businesses. It smartly allowed the DVD portion to die a slow and I'm guessing painless death. 

At press time, you can still sign up at DVD.com to get "movies delivered," though I wouldn't recommend it after reading this story.

Dead media

As Netflix prepares to ship its final DVDs on September 29, 2023, I have no idea how many people are still renting discs from Netflix. This ostensibly leaves only Redbox, the kiosk-based DVD-rental business, and libraries, which continue to hold collections of DVDs and Blu-rays for members who want to forgo one of the many best streaming services.

That's the reality of today's home media consumption landscape. It's no longer a question of whether or not you can get the latest blockbuster movie DVD back to Netflix in time for them to send you another one. Instead, you peruse Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, Apple TV+, HBOMax, or some other streaming platform to fulfill your home entertainment needs.

No one will miss Netflix's DVD service and it will be up to those of us old enough to remember to tell our grandkids about what it felt like to open your mailbox and see it stuffed with a few red envelopes. 

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.


Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.