Netflix, which began as a business that mailed DVDs to subscribers but became a streaming giant, is marking the end of it's DVD-by-mail service with a giveaway (kind of). They will ship some subscribers up to 10 DVDs before the business unplugs.
The catch - the streaming giant wants all of its DVDs back.
Netflix first announced in April that it planned to end its rental DVD option beginning this fall. But the company told subscribers this week that they can opt into receiving up to 10 extra DVDs chosen by the company (and slightly based on the customer's queue of desired movies).
"After 25 years of movies in the mail, we're approaching the end of our final season," Netflix said in the email. "We really appreciate that you're sharing movie nights with us until the last day. Let's have some fun for our finale!"
The extra DVDs will be shipped to subscriber's mailboxes on Sept. 29, which is also the final shipment day for the mail service. According to Netflix, people who opt in won't know if they're getting the discs or not until they show up in the mailbox.
But renters still have to send those DVDs back, according to Netflix, and will have until Oct. 27 to do so.
Lindsay Spiller, an attorney for the entertainment and business law firm Spiller Law, said that Netflix can't sell or give away its DVDs to customers because the company originally received them through licensing agreements with filmmakers and studios, who own the property.
But the company can tweak its own terms of service, which allows people to rent one DVD at a time, Spiller said.
If customers don't return the discs by the October deadline, it will be up to Netflix to police the infraction against its terms of service, Spiller said. Telling customers they can keep the DVDs would leave Netflix open to lawsuits from studios and filmmakers, he added.
It's unclear how Netflix will approach customers who don't return their DVDs, Spiller said, but holding onto a disc past the expiration date could, in theory, be seen as theft.
"I would behoove the subscriber not to try to find a workaround," Spiller said.
There have been no details about whether Netflix plans to keep or donate its extra discs. According to Netflix's help center website, the company said it is "unable to sell discs from our rental inventory."
Netflix did not immediately respond to questions about what will happen to the DVDs after its DVD.com arm shuts down.
Mike Mandell, a Los Angeles entertainment law attorney for Mandell Law, said it's likely Netflix will return its DVDs to the studios or destroy the discs altogether.
Netflix started shipping DVDs in March 1998. It has since mailed out more than 5.2 billion DVDs to 40 million unique subscribers since then, according to a company blog post.
The decision to eliminate the service came after the company reviewed various costs to accommodate for slowing growth and better competition in the streaming business. The service is responsible for less than 1 percent of its revenue, according to Variety.
"Our goal has always been to provide the best service for our members, but as the DVD business continues to shrink that's going to become increasingly hard," the company said in April.