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Amazon kills off Lovefilm as Netflix turns 20

DVD by post in the UK is almost extinct, and it's in no small part thanks to a certain ubiquitous US streaming service

After 15 years as the UK’s foremost DVD delivery service Amazon has announced that it will be shutting down Lovefilm on 31 October, citing a decreasing demand from a market that’s almost entirely shifted towards streaming and downloads.

At its peak Lovefilm had two million subscribers across five countries, all of whom were able to choose from over 70,000 titles. It was this popularity that led to Amazon purchasing it outright for a reported £200m – it already owned 32% of the service.

The rest is history: the super popular Amazon Video service (or Instant Video as it was known in 2014) was actually just a rebranding of the streaming branch of Lovefilm. For whatever reason it decided to keep the Lovefilm name for the DVD rental service, though, despite it being integrated within Amazon. The number of subscribers who still use the rental section of the service is unspecified, but Amazon has stated that “over the last few years we have seen a decreasing demand for DVD and Blu-ray rental as customers increasingly move to streaming”.

WHSmith Movies Direct, Tesco DVD Rental, EasyCinema, Odeon Direct, Nectar DVD Rental, CD-WOW! and The Guardian’s Sofa Cinema were all previously operated by Lovefilm, too, although their DVD by post services all ended long before this announcement.

Death of the DVD?

While this news may seem inevitable to some, it will leave a great number of cinephiles miffed. As excellent as the Amazon Prime Video service is, Lovefilm by post offered a much larger selection of movies: today there are over 27,000 DVD offerings, more than 6,000 Blu-rays and over 200 3D Blu-rays – once you then factor in the 30,000+ TV rentals available it’s easy to see why some will be mourning the loss.

By comparison, Amazon Video has more than 19,000 movies available in standard definition and over 9,000 available in HD, plus 4,000+ TV streams. The difference in numbers may not seem enormous, but it’s the difference in titles that makes the real difference. With Lovefilm soon to be put to rest, subscribers (who currently receive both services for the same price) are set to lose access to a wealth of material – even if they were only able to access it by snail-mail.

TV streaming services explained – Happy to go digital? Here’s all you need to know

Netflix turns 20

Netflix over the years

Coincidentally, August saw the 20th anniversary of Netflix’s inception. What’s not coincidence, however, is Netflix’s success correlating with Lovefilm’s termination.

Netflix originally began life as a very similar service to Lovefilm: in 1997 home internet was far too slow to handle video streaming, so it instead sold DVDs by post (its founders say that it originally considered the still-dominant VHS format, but they were too large and expensive to store and too fragile to send by post). In 1999 it introduced the monthly subscription concept that most of us will be familiar with.

One year later Netflix offered video-rental behemoth Blockbuster the chance to acquire it, in its entirety, for $50m. Blockbuster declined. At the time of writing, Netflix is now worth over $13.5bn, while Blockbuster went bankrupt seven years ago.

In 2007 Netflix sold its one billionth DVD, and was shipping DVDs at a rate of over one million per day. That milestone also saw the company begin to shift away from the business model that had brought it so much success, as it turned its efforts from rental and sales to the burgeoning streaming market. In 2011 it decided to separate its DVD-by-post service from its streaming service.

A rebrand under the name ‘Qwikster’ was botched, it lost 800,000 subscribers in one quarter, and it rethought its decision. By 2016 it had completed a successful rebrand: ‘DVD.com: A Netflix Company’ is still available to US residents, but unfortunately for UK users eager to retain a postal service it’s a Stateside exclusive.

Alternative DVD-by-post services

Sadly, your options are limited. And by ‘limited’ we mean there’s just one option, although it’s certainly a good one. Cinema Paradiso has over 90,000 titles available, and it’s all done via DVD by post.

There are a variety of subscription levels offering a number of simultaneous rentals and monthly limits, so you’re sure to find one to suit your physical media routine. The most basic package costs £4.98 per month, allowing you a maximum of two discs per month, one at a time. The most expensive costs £19.98 a month and grants you unlimited monthly rentals with a maximum of three at a time.

Other than Cinema Paradiso, all your other choices are purely digital – except for maybe your local DVD rental store, if you’re fortunate enough to have one. Almost the entire market has moved on to digital.

Want more digital content on demand? Our guide to How to buy the best Internet TV box is the perfect place to get started. 

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