Netflix's DVD Subscription Is Still Great, Dammit
The last millennial to rent DVDs via mail pleads his case for the other Netflix.
Pictured above: dinosaur bones
I pay for cable and Netflix. I, ahem, “have access” to Amazon Prime and the quartet of premium cable movies channels (HBO/Starz/Cinemax/Showtime). There’s probably a Redbox on my porch fully loaded with copies of Trolls. Hulu’s library is garbage; nobody needs Hulu.
Yet the best content* service in my life is Netflix’s DVD-by-mail subscription service, which I’ve happily paid for each month since 2009 and will until they decide it’s no longer worth the postage servicing the six dozen people that still pay for it.
It’s not nostalgia for the red envelopes fueling this monthly transaction. If anything, I feel wistful for the tacky blue walls and stale popcorn scent of Blockbuster. But Netflix? Nah, they’re just a corporation trying to sell me Amy Schumer and Kevin Spacey breaking the fourth wall. If not for the DVDs and occasional FOMO from their streaming service I’d happily punt Netflix into a volcano.
Being the last millennial to actually pay for the DVD service means I’m at the butt end of grief on occasion. I just Googled “netflix dvd service” and two of the top links are “Netflix’s shrinking DVD service faces uncertain future” and “When Will Netflix Kill Its DVD Service?” The criticisms are fair. It’s old-fashioned. You can stream most things directly to your TV so why include the disc/disc-player middle men? It lacks the convenience of streaming options because you have to wait for the mail. These are all true! And yet Netflix DVDs still blow the shit out of every provider combined in the only three areas that people care about for this sort of thing.
1) The library
Netflix’s streaming library has long been a punch line and it’s getting worse. Rather than pay the expensive licensing fees to stream other studio’s content, they’re electing to just make their own stuff now. Except, psst, Netflix has never made a great show or movie. That doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t, but for now their quality ranges from “pretty good” to “Fuller House.” Stranger Things was a phenomenon last year and I enjoy that show, but let’s be real, it was like the 11th best show on TV last year; most FX and HBO series eat its lunch.* And while there are non-Netflix productions, your choices are increasingly limited to American Pie 19: Stifler’s Foreclosure and National Lampoon’s Tits!
* The eponymous brothers of this site might throw me into geek jail for that one.
Prime and Hulu are even worse. The Big Four movie channels can have strong libraries, but they’re inconsistent and you’d have to wait months until the newer releases show up.
The solution: Netflix DVDs. In the eight years I’ve had the service I’ve never had an issue obtaining a copy of a movie or TV series I want. Back in the day I would occasionally have a “long/short wait” for a newer movie, but since so many people have ditched the service that never happens anymore. Big blockbusters or snobby foreign independent movies or everything in between, it doesn’t matter — they literally have everything I’ve wanted. I can’t prove this but just trust me; if you want it they have it. You don’t have to settle for Tokyo Croc Attack.
2) The cost
All the options I’ve talked about are certainly more cost-effective than going to the movies or, hell, buying physical copies of the movie. Disney are the biggest grifters of all, packaging their movies in Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo packs to jack up the price; nobody needs one copy of The Good Dinosaur, let alone three.
Netflix’ streaming library costs $12 per month for the basic high-def plan. Amazon Prime runs $100 (per year) for their streaming content and free shipping for all the beef jerky and socks you desire. HBO would cost me $15 per month on my cable package and I assume that’s pretty uniform with every cable/dish company. These aren’t that expensive for what you’re getting: access to their entire libraries with no limits. But no one service can cover all your bases for stuff* you want to watch. Netflix streams the AMC shows EXCEPT Preacher, so if you’ve been dying to watch that now you have to sign up for Hulu or find a good friend willing to give you their password. One day Amazon had the rights to all the classic HBO shows, now poof, they’re gone at the end of the year. Time to subscribe to HBO sucker.
* Really struggling not to use “content” again because that word makes me cringe.
My Netflix DVD plan — in which I can rent one movie out at a time for an unlimited amount of times — costs $8 per month. Again, this is for the best library available and it costs less than all the other popular services. It’s the closest you can come to having access to all the TV/movies you want. It’s not perfect: renting out seasons of TV series is annoying and many of the streaming programs don’t make physical copies of their series anyway. And while my rentals are “unlimited” there’s only so many things I can watch in a month since I’m waiting on the post office.
I probably watch about 40–50ish of a calendar year’s releases, not counting older movies I want to revisit or check out for the first time. (It used to be more but now I have a wife and a dog that greedily want attention.) But for the sake of simplicity let’s say I receive four movies each month from Netflix in the mail. That means for each rental I’m only paying $2; if I happen to rent more movies in a month than normal, then I pay less per movie because elementary math. The only streaming libraries that can rival Netflix’s DVD selection are Google* and iTunes and in general those rentals are going to run you $3 to $7 each, depending on how old they are and HD and all that. But for someone like me that only has a Chromecast, I can’t easily watch an iTunes rental on my TV anyway, and like shit if I’m watching a feature film on my phone.
* And yet when I wanted to rent Doctor Strange from Google Play the other day (see, I know how to use the new-fangled gizmos too!) but it was only available for purchase. That’s a new release from the biggest studio in the world!
The only service that can compete with Netflix DVDs from a cost standpoint is Redbox (if you return the movie on time), where you can rent a new standard definition movie for $1.50. But Redbox has the worst library of any of the providers, leaning heavily toward new releases. Plus, do you really feel like driving to Walgreen’s Friday night to rent a movie then drive back to Walgreen’s Saturday to avoid the late fee?
3) Guys, it’s still pretty convenient
Nothing can beat the ease and convenience of firing up a movie from your phone while sitting on the couch. But, c’mon, Netflix drops the movie off in your fucking mailbox. Your Health app will appreciate the extra steps.
If you want to watch Hidden Figures RIGHT NOW then the DVD plan isn’t going to help you. But it takes, like, two days to receive a new movie after you’ve returned the last one. On the off-days without the mailer you can supplement your entertainment options with Netflix streaming or Blue Apron.
Netflix’s streaming issues are fewer now than in its nascent days, but streaming technology in general still fails more than the good ol’ hardware of disc and disc player (although your dog can’t destroy a stream of Master of None). In general the apps I use for streaming TV or movies work great, but they don’t work as flawlessly or consistently as a disc. One day they will, but for now discs are more reliable.
I don’t have kids, but I assume everything I wrote above won’t necessarily ring true for the parents. If Little Johnny wants to watch Planes 4: Planes Down Under at this moment, it’s probably not going to do any good to tell him it’ll be here in two days.
Or if you’re cool pirating all your movies and TV series, you do you. I once tried to watch an illegal stream of a hockey game on my computer and Spywared myself real good so I’m afraid of that now.
For the rest of us, the Netflix DVD plan is the best combination of price, selection, and convenience. Come join the DVD subscribers in the sun, at least until Netflix folds it in a few months and I live the rest of my life like a schnook in search of movies consumable at home.