Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Netflix Really, Really Doesn’t Want Your DVD Money

Streaming is the future. We’re focused on it. DVD will do whatever it’s going to do. We’re not — we’re going to try to not hurt it, but we’re not putting a lot of time and energy into doing anything particular around it and then we’re focused on, how do we take advantage of this incredible global streaming opportunity.

That was Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, at the UBS media conference earlier this month, reiterating the point that Netflix has been making over and over again for some time: They want out of the DVD business, even though it is generating more than $1 billion a year for them.

Hastings and his team are convinced that even though consumers say that discs are important to them, their usage data shows that few people … use them. “Old fogey discs,” Hastings calls them.

Netflix tried very hard to accelerate the decline of DVDs with the Qwikster fiasco. Since then, Netflix has been careful to tell its subscribers who are still paying for DVDs that it is happy to have them around.

New subscribers are a different story, though. Netflix exclusively pushes its $8-a-month unlimited-streaming option, on its site and in its promotional materials. You have to work very hard to discover that the company still rents DVDs, and that’s by design.

Same deal for former subscribers that Netflix is trying to woo back: Even if you used to get both DVDs and streaming videos from Netflix, the company will only tell you about its streaming plan in its “come back!” emails. (See the screenshot of an email my colleague Tricia Duryee, who quit her hybrid plan this fall, got recently, at the bottom of this post.)

But the message is most clear for people who want to give someone a Netflix subscription as a present: The company no longer allows you to gift a subscription that includes a DVD plan, period.

Go ahead and see for yourself — there’s no way to give Reed Hastings and company an extra $8 a month for a service they’re still providing to some 11 million subscribers.

The one tiny workaround that the company offers (if you look very, very hard — or do what I did, and call up Netflix PR and ask) is the ability to let current subscribers extend their current deal. So, for instance, if you’re currently getting the equivalent of a $16-a-month hybrid disc-and-streaming option, and someone gives you a year-long $8-a-month streaming gift, you can convert that into a six-month hybrid plan.

But, boy, that’s complicated. Easier to just give someone a year of streaming, and then send them a check so they can add the DVD portion on their own. Which is what we just did this morning, here at the AllThingsD Brooklyn outpost.

So to repeat: If you work very, very hard, Netflix will let you give it money, and will let you rent DVDs in return. But it would really prefer that you didn’t.

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