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Netflix extra DVD offer ahead of service shutdown confuses some customers

Red Netflix envelopes sit in a bin of mail at the U.S. Post Office sort center March 30, 2010 in San Francisco, California. The company is ending its DVD mailing service with a promotion.
Justin Sullivan
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Red Netflix envelopes sit in a bin of mail at the U.S. Post Office sort center March 30, 2010 in San Francisco, California. The company is ending its DVD mailing service with a promotion.

Updated August 22, 2023 at 1:32 PM ET

Editor's note: After this story first published, Netflix updated its FAQ page to note that DVDs do not need to be returned.

Longtime Netflix DVD customer Moe Long was excited to receive a recent email in his inbox from the company. It included a link inviting customers to potentially receive up to 10 extra discs on Sept. 29 — when Netflix's 25-year-old delivery service goes dark.

Netflix is marking an end to the era of mailing out DVDs in red envelopes to subscribers by offering to send them these extra discs.

"Let's have some fun for our finale!" the email, shared with NPR, states. "You won't know if any extra envelopes are headed your way until they arrive in your mailbox!"

Fans of the streamer's hard-copy service are welcoming the promotion ahead of the delivery service's closure at the end of September.

"Netflix is doing everything that they can to help people watch as many films that are in their queue as possible before the shutdown," said Long, a self-described film buff in North Carolina who told NPR there are 500 movies in his queue right now.

"It's ridiculous," said Long. "I don't think I'm gonna get through that."

Long said he plans, as usual, to return the DVDs to the sender when he's done.

"You don't get to keep the DVDs," he said. "You do have to send them back."

But given the fact the company is scrapping its DVD service, other subscribers aren't interpreting Netflix's offer in the same way.

An FAQ section on Netflix's website states the company will accept returns through Oct. 27. But Netflix's promotional email doesn't explicitly tell customers what to do with those discs. This is causing confusion among customers, and debate among the members of online communities like Reddit.

"It appeared to me that at the end of their time shipping these DVDs out that they're yours to keep," North Carolina-based Netflix DVD subscriber Leslie Lowdermilk told NPR. "Because after all, what are they gonna do with them?"

That's a great question to put to a company that has sent out more than 5 billion DVDs to customers since launching in 1998. The discs are not easily recyclable. Most of them end up in landfill.

A Netflix spokesperson told NPR the company is indeed expecting to get those discs back, and plans to release more specifics about winding down its DVD business in a month or so.

Attorney Lindsay Spiller of the San Francisco entertainment and business law firm Spiller Law said Netflix couldn't give the DVDs away even if it wanted to.

"The filmmakers and property rights owners give Netflix a license, and then they can sub-license it to their subscribers," Spiller said. "But they can't give anybody ownership. They don't have it themselves."

Massachusetts-based Netflix DVD customer Mary Gerbi said she welcomes Netflix's offer of the extra movies. But she wishes the company could be clearer with its communications.

"They really should have made it clear whether this was a rental and what the return period is, versus whether people were getting to hold onto these things," Gerbi said. "I do hope that perhaps they could find a way to get them into viewers' hands permanently, or maybe get them into libraries or someplace where they're not just going to waste."

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Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.