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Netflix’s path to becoming a giant started 15 years ago today

Netflix streaming is entering its anxious teen years as today marks 15 years since it launched its streaming services. It’s easy to forget how things were before the streaming era, but if you had a Netflix subscription a decade and a half ago, that meant paying a monthly subscription for a rotation of DVDs shipped to your door.

But while things are vastly different these days and Netflix has become a juggernaut in the entertainment world, even then the chatter was all about Netflix’s competition – although in this case instead of Amazon, Apple and Warner Discovery: it was Blockbuster .

Go through this New York Times article about Netflix “delivering movies to the PC” when the service launched in 2007 is like peering into a time capsule from another world. Remember, until now, Netflix’s way of disrupting the entertainment world has been through logistics.

If you rented DVDs (and formerly VHS tapes) from Blockbuster, you normally paid per rental and suffered the fear of hefty fines if you didn’t return on time. Netflix instead sent DVDs to people for subscription, without fear of late payment penalties – the secret sauce that spelled doom and many lost profits for Blockbuster.

You can actually still subscribe this Netflix service, despite the site giving off some odd, knock-off vibes until you see the branding “A Netflix Company” below the site’s logo. But before DVDs became a quiet service for – I assume – people with poor internet connections, older folks used to physical media, or just the absolute sick, streaming video from Netflix was a pretty limited affair.

At launch, only 1,000 movies and TV shows were available to stream, compared to the 70,000 DVD titles it had at the time. And streaming anything on your PC (remember, it wasn’t possible on a phone or tablet) came with limitations unheard of in our binge-watching world today:

The majority of Netflix subscribers, who pay $18 a month and are always allowed to keep three movies at home, get 18 hours of free viewing every month. Those with cheaper plans will have fewer free hours and those with premium services will receive more.

Looking at more of these vintage bangers from the New York Times article, it’s sobering (and hilarious) to recall that, in the early years of Netflix, the whole concept of movies or TV shows that didn’t have object permanence on a physical DVD or the spinning disks of your hard drive was absolutely new :

Netflix is ​​introducing a service to send movies and television shows directly to users’ PCs, not as downloads, but as streaming video, which is not kept in computer memory.

If during today’s little anniversary you’re wondering how the hell did a logistics company become an entertainment industry juggernaut now known for winning Academy Awards instead of shipping discs, check out season two of the podcast Land of the Giants from Recode and Vox. The seven part season, The Netflix effectcovers the rise of the tech company and the sea change that helped start it 15 years ago.

Imagine doom scrolling on Netflix and then wait three days before you can watch what you finally selected. Let us know in the comments if you used to get those red Netflix mailers at your door, and be sure to tell us if you do Still.

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