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What is Netflix®?

By R. Kayne
Updated: Feb 23, 2024

Netflix® is an online movie rental service offering flat-fee subscription plans for video on demand and DVD and Blu-ray disc rentals. Individual discs are mailed to subscribers in prepaid envelopes that include a return mailer and postage. There are no late fees, but a customer must return a movie before receiving another, though depending on the subscription level, a subscriber can have up to three discs out at a time.

In addition to disc rentals, Netflix® also provides unlimited online streaming directly to TV. Rather than waiting for a disc to be mailed, the “Watch Instantly” feature will get a near-DVD quality picture to a television in seconds. Although this service was originally free with every plan, notwithstanding the device required to use it that the customer must purchase out of pocket, the company decided to separate the streaming and disc rental services in 2011, charging separately for each. This was initially part of a plan to spin off the disc rental service as its own entity, but that plan was later dropped.

Netflix® boasts a growing catalog of over 100,000 titles that not only cover movies, but many television series, documentaries, and anime. When a subscriber joins the disc rental program, he or she creates a list of desired movies or programs. The company mails the first one or more titles on the list, depending on the subscription plan, then as the client returns movies, subsequent titles are mailed in order. An account can have multiple profiles and lists, as in the case of a family where Mom and Dad might have one list, and the kids, another.

Due to the 100+ mailing points located across the United States, Netflix® claims most titles arrive at a subscriber’s address in about one business day after shipping. There are some complaints, however, that the company engages in “throttling,” or servicing customers that rent fewer titles first, over more frequent renters. Whether for this or other reasons, at times titles on a subscriber’s list might be shipped out of order or delayed.

The company offers a free one-month trial, after which the subscriber will be charged for the selected plan unless action is taken to opt out. No long-term contracts are required and there are no cancellation fees. Subscriptions can be canceled at any time online at the site, though there are no pro-rated refunds for monies already paid.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Izzy78 — On Apr 10, 2012

@kentuckycat - Those are most of the same criticisms I have about Netflix. They need more current movies. For a while, they were partnering with different cable movie channels, but because of contract issues and such, I don't think they have as many offerings as they used to.

Besides Redbox, there are a few other good options for people that want don't mind streaming movies. I think Amazon is the main competitor right now. I actually have an Amazon business where I buy and sell a lot of things, so I am a Prime member, which gives me automatic access to their movie selection. I think it is pretty good and has several current movies.

The other option, of course, is Hulu. I used to use it a lot of times to watch TV shows, but usually just to go network websites now. I don't know exactly how extensive their selection is, but I have a friend who uses the paid Hulu system, and she says she likes it.

By kentuckycat — On Apr 09, 2012

I do not personally watch a lot of Netflix, but the other people in my family do. The main complain I hear from them and other people with subscriptions is that the streaming movie selection is lacking. I guess a lot of the movies they have on their aren't even the blockbusters from several years ago. Even to get a movie like Titanic, you would have to order the DVD.

Like someone else mentioned, though, I guess they do have a good selection of streaming series that you can watch. That doesn't really appeal to me much either, though. There are only a couple of series that I watch, and I don't think Netflix even has old episodes of those. Luckily, one series is on Fox and the other is on CBS, and both of those channels allow you to watch the most recent episodes of their series online, which is what I usually end up doing.

By jmc88 — On Apr 08, 2012

I really like the fact that you can separate the streaming from the discs now. The real reason I got Netflix was so that I could watch episodes of TV series online. I don't watch a lot of movies, so that never appealed much to me.

The best part is that over the past couple of years, they have really added a lot of good series to their lineup. I have found quite a few British series or older American series that I really like but never would have known about without Netflix.

The other good thing about their streaming system now is that it can connect to a lot of different gaming systems. Now, instead of just being able to watch shows on my computer, I can watch them through my Wii on a better screen.

By TreeMan — On Apr 08, 2012

@LisaLou - I actually did the same thing and canceled my cable and just went with Netflix. Even the basic cable or satellite plans now are at least $50 and for all the more often I watch TV, it just isn't worth it. Even when I do watch TV, a lot of it is sports that are on the local channels. I just went out and paid about 20 dollars for an antenna and can watch those channels for free.

The other reason Netflix is convenient for me is that I tend to watch most of my TV either right after work or in the evening sometime. That being said, I am usually pretty tired and end up falling asleep, so if I'm trying to watch a new episode of a show or a movie or something, I hardly ever see the end and have to find it online anyway. With Netflix, I can just order whatever movie I want and watch it as many times as I need to get through it.

By LisaLou — On Apr 07, 2012

It seems like the cost of cable or satellite TV keeps getting higher all the time. My son and his roommate were trying to cut expenses, and ended up getting rid of their cable and subscribing to Netflix.

They really like the variety of choices they have to choose from and don't have to worry about late fees and who is going to return the movie.

They like to watch the new releases on DVD as soon as they can. They have been happy with the service and convenience they have with Netflix.

By golf07 — On Apr 07, 2012

@John57 - As far as getting a scratched DVD, that is why streaming Netflix is a good idea. The quality is much better and you don't have to worry about returning anything.

I have found online DVD rental to work great for me. I love the convenience and haven't rented a move from a video store for a long time.

I think Netflix was one of the first companies to offer this way of renting movies, and they have been quite successful. Other companies have followed in their steps, and they are all a bit different, but the concept is the same.

By John57 — On Apr 06, 2012

I have often considered subscribing to Netflix, but we don't watch enough movies to justify it. While we watch more movies during the winter, I still don't think it is enough to get our money's worth.

I do like the fact that Netflix doesn't have long term contracts, and they make it convenient to cancel at any time.

When we want to rent a DVD, we usually go to a Redbox, but I am not all that happy with that either. Many of the titles I want to watch aren't there. There have also been times when the movie is so scratched that you can't even watch it.

By SailorJerry — On Apr 06, 2012

@jholcomb - Personally, I still think it's a good deal for DVDs. At least, it's better than the alternatives! Most people don't have access to a video store anymore and the kiosks like Redbox that rent DVDs usually have only new releases.

If new releases are all you want to watch and you just want to watch two or three a month, then Redbox is all you need. You could check DVDs out for free from your local library for variety.

But if you like to watch a wider variety of movies and TV shows, you're better off with Netflix. The streaming won't be worthwhile for everyone. It doesn't have new, popular movies available. But we usually keep it going because it has a lot of TV series available to watch, and it's nice with those not to have to wait.

By jholcomb — On Apr 05, 2012

Is Netflix still a good deal for DVD rental? We've been thinking of getting it, but then they got all that bad press when they started to charge separately for streaming and DVDs; not sure we want to pay two different prices!

We had it years and years ago, before streaming was even a thing, but then for the last several years we just used a video store. Naturally, it has now closed down and we're looking for alternatives!

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