It all started with a White Elephant Christmas gift exchange in 2002. Or maybe 2003. It’s really immaterial to the story because either way, Netflix was still new(ish) and novel and no one that I knew was using it, which is always a sure sign of a fledgling endeavor because I’m the opposite of an “early adopter.” (I got a smartphone right around the time your great grandmother did–which reminds me: have you heard of this new thing called quinoa?) So when my mom Godfather’d her way to a nondescript package in the middle of a pile of unmarked gifts, and discovered a check for a three month trial subscription to a service that would mail her VHSes that looked like CDs, my first thought was, “They deliver movies in the mail? In a red envelope? Oh, man–the future is adorable!”
Even better was the absence of late fees, which was probably the main selling point for my parents, who had to take out a second mortgage in 1995 to cover fines accrued when a Blockbuster copy of “Ernest Goes to Camp” went missing.
Anyway, I’ll skip over the years of household strife that emerged as an organic development when a family of 6 has to agree on anything, let alone entertainment choices.
(Strikes years 2002-2006 from the record.)
In February of 2007, Netflix announced its 1 billionth DVD delivery. “YES WE CAN!” I shouted to no one in particular, and now kick myself for not trademarking. It seemed like the adorable little engine was going to get over the hill after all. The company’s early successes were had when no one–especially Hollywood–was watching. Studios, normally suspicious of anything they can’t control, practically gave away licensing contracts to the plucky up-start. As a result, Netflix capitalized on the low cost of doing business, allowing it to slowly but surely morph into one of the most powerful entertainment outposts since Philo Farnsworth slapped together a couple of two by fours, threw an antenna on top and called it good.
Since its billionth delivery, Netflix has gone on to partner with some of the best creative voices in film and television, racking up Emmy nominations like it’s 1974 and they’re CBS. Now, in the midst of a new world order that includes Net Neutrality, Netflix is getting even savvier. Last week it was announced that the company mostly known for its online services will be partnering with regional cable companies, whereby essentially acting like a new broadcast channel. This move allows Netflix to spread its risks–and potential for rewards–across more platforms, while other companies like Comcast scramble to figure out ways to keep up.
In just a few short years, the company that got its start renting us movies through the mail has become one of the most dominant forces in the entertainment industry. But empires don’t come cheap, and on the heels of their cable announcement, the media giant also announced that starting in June, subscription rates are set to rise.
It looks like it’s time to call an emergency gift exchange. Let’s hope the check is a little bigger this time.