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After 25 years, Netflix will end its DVD-by-mail service

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After 25 years, Netflix is winding down its business of mailing DVDs to subscribers. Now, maybe that's a no-brainer in this digital age, but not to everybody. Here's NPR's Mandalit del Barco.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Before it was a $150 billion streaming service, Netflix was strictly a DVD-by-mail operation created by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings. The idea was to use the internet - the net - to rent out movies - flicks - to subscribers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARC RANDOLPH: (Reading) Neither of us had ever actually seen a DVD.

DEL BARCO: In the audiobook of his memoir, "That Will Never Work," Randolph says, before 1997, no one outside of Japan owned a DVD player. There were laser discs, VHS tapes and Betamax. Randolph and Hastings had a hunch DVDs could be the next big thing, and they could ship them to customers by snail mail.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RANDOLPH: (Reading) Let's just try it. Mail a CD to your place. If it breaks, it breaks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRAZY")

PATSY CLINE: (Singing) Crazy.

DEL BARCO: So Randolph went out and bought a CD of Patsy Cline's greatest hits and a pink greeting card envelope. He mailed it with a 32-cent stamp to Hastings' house, and it arrived the next morning undamaged. Fast forward to April 14, 1998.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEETLEJUICE")

MICHAEL KEATON: (As Beetlejuice, laughter).

DEL BARCO: Netflix shipped its first DVD movie, "Beetlejuice."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEETLEJUICE")

KEATON: (As Beetlejuice) It's showtime.

DEL BARCO: Since then, the company has shipped 5.2 billion discs by mail and now-iconic red envelopes - not pink - to 40 million subscribers. But now, as the DVD and Blu-ray disc business wanes, CEO Ted Sarandos announced the service will end on September 29, a real bummer for holdouts like 71-year-old Claire Ryan (ph) in Memphis.

CLAIRE RYAN: Wow. That's the end of an era - you know, how space age we thought that was when we had our subscription initially.

DEL BARCO: Ryan says since 2006, she and her wife have rented 418 films from Netflix. There are hundreds more on their queue - old black-and-white movies, documentaries, foreign films, and especially classic Christmas pictures.

RYAN: There are many movies that you can't stream on Netflix. You can only see them on DVD.

DEL BARCO: Some loyal subscribers say they can't afford streaming services or they live in rural areas without broadband. Ryan says she and her wife still have a VCR, a Blu-ray and a DVD player, and they plan to order Netflix DVDs to the end.

RYAN: DVDs are really dinosaurs. It's like - never seeing one of those in my mailbox again is going to be really weird.

DEL BARCO: There's a petition to keep the service going, and kiosk business Redbox reportedly even offered to take it over, but it seems that soon the last of those DVDs and red envelopes will be extinct.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.