In the stream

Netflix envelope

Netflix’s video streaming service is surging during the coronavirus pandemic as millions of homebound Americans binge on movies and TV shows, but the digital media giant is still in the mailstream, too.

More than 2 million people received DVDs in the mail through Netflix’s rental service last year, according to the most recent data available. Although that number is down sharply from 2011, when the company’s DVD service peaked at 14 million subscribers, lots of people continue to receive Netflix’s iconic red envelopes in the mail.

Industry experts point to two main reasons: broadband access and catalog size.

Video streaming requires access to broadband internet, which isn’t available in many rural areas. But those locations are served by the Postal Service, as part of its universal service obligation.

For other Netflix DVD customers, the issue is choice.

The company won’t disclose numbers, but industry observers estimate Netflix has the rights to stream about 5,000 titles in the United States.

However, the company’s DVD catalog exceeds 100,000 titles.

“Initially, we did DVDs because video stores were phasing out and it seemed convenient,” said Martha Blair, a resident of The Dalles, OR, who has been a Netflix DVD subscriber since 2010.

“We tried streaming early on and I didn’t like it because I couldn’t get the movies I wanted to see. The DVD service offered a wider variety of movies,” she said.

Blair and her husband watch around two DVDs a week. They’ve re-added Netflix’s streaming service to their subscription so their teenage children can stay current with what their friends are watching.

“There are some shows I’ve started watching with the streaming,” she said.

Netflix began life in 1997 as a DVD-by-mail service. By 2009, the company boasted 10 million subscribers to its DVD service and was shipping 900 million DVDs a year through the Postal Service, accounting for 1.3 percent of all mail in the United States.

Netflix’s business model not only proved wildly popular for customers, it changed how people rented DVDs, eventually helping to push the Blockbuster DVD rental store chain — its largest competitor at the time — into bankruptcy in 2010.

But Netflix’s mail-order DVD business would soon face stiff competition — from the company’s own video streaming service, which it introduced in 2007.

By 2012, DVD subscribers had fallen to 10 million and continued to fall to 2.1 million at the end of 2019. By comparison, the company recently reported it had 70 million U.S. streaming subscribers at the end of March.

Last summer, the company celebrated shipping its 5 billionth DVD — all through the U.S. Mail.

“5,000,000,000 shipments. FIVE BILLION. The most heartfelt thank you to our incredible members that have been with us for the past 21 years of DVD Netflix,” the company said in a tweet last August.

Though its DVD business now only has around 2 million subscribers, those customers contribute heavily to Netflix’s bottom line — $174 million in profit for 2019, or $80.81 per subscriber.

Netflix’s U.S. streaming business brought in $54.30 per subscriber in 2019.

The company has been mum on its plans for the DVD business, going so far as to not break out figures for it in its most recent quarterly filing. But observers expect that as long as it remains profitable, Netflix will keep mailing DVDs.

Not all of its customers are so sure, though.

“I assume they’ll stop mailing DVDs in the next couple of years,” said Blair. “Times change, and that’s fine.”

No return

The Postal Service will no longer offer the Return Receipt for Merchandise service in an effort to streamline return receipt and signature confirmation options for customers.

Starting Wednesday, July 1, the organization will start deleting the service from all USPS systems, software applications, and publications, manuals and forms.

Employees should direct mailers seeking Return Receipt and Signature Confirmation services to similar alternatives, such as Signature Confirmation, which provides details about the date and time an article was delivered or the date and time of the delivery attempt.

Introduced in 1988 as an extra service, Return Receipt for Merchandise provides mailers with both mailing (PS 3804) and return receipts (PS 3811) when Priority Mail, Marketing Mail, Package Services and Parcel Select shipments are delivered to customers.

Retail Digest’s June 16 edition has more information.

Heroic headliner

The latest issue of Postal Bulletin features its annual spotlight on the Postmaster General Heroes’ Program.

The cover story, “Every Day, Heroes,” revisits the heroic actions of Miami Letter Carrier Donna Bratton, who was delivering mail one day at an apartment complex when a customer ran up to her, holding an infant, and exclaimed, “My baby can’t breathe!”

While 911 was called, Bratton performed CPR on the girl and revived her. Emergency responders soon arrived and took the baby to a hospital.

The article explains that Bratton is one of several thousand employees who have been recognized through the PMG Heroes’ Program, now in its 17th year.

The program is described as being based on a simple idea: Postal Service employees know the habits of their customers and the rhythms of their communities, and are often the first to notify emergency personnel and render aid when something is wrong.

Employees have been commended for going above and beyond the call of duty in a variety of situations, such as assisting lost children, getting help for sick or injured customers, spotting fires, and more.

The article also explains the nomination and review process for the program, which leads to recognized employees receiving a commendation letter from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, being featured in the award-winning “Heroes’ Corner” column in Link, and having their photos and stories displayed on a heroes’ wall at USPS headquarters in Washington, DC.