With 2019 only weeks away, I watched world premiere play The Year to Come open at the La Jolla Playhouse. Every scene in the play takes place at a family New Year’s Eve party, and we see the family change as the years go by — moving backwards. During intermission, it strikes me I’m more excited to attend a play these days than I am to go to the movies. I wonder why that is?
In November 2018, I was searching for my favorite reusable grocery bag when I found an old Netflix DVD return sleeve at the bottom of a drawer. The self-adhesive red envelopes used to be all over my house, with DVD rentals coming in or going out several times per week. DVD by mail once felt very modern, but now this slip of paper feels like a relic. I can’t remember the last time I viewed a DVD, or even owned a video disc player of any kind.
In 2011, I got a Blu Ray player that doubled as a streaming device for my TV, so I could connect it directly to Netflix and watch movies and TV shows online, rather than wait for them to arrive by mail. That same year, Netflix announced it would split into two companies: Netflix would stream entertainment, while a new brand, Qwikster, would deliver DVDs by mail. So many parts of this decision were terrible that Qwikster got buried faster than New Coke, and Netflix continued to both stream and rent DVDs by mail. But not really.
It’s a full ten years now, since 2008, that Netflix has been streaming video. Home internet connections didn’t all feature broadband speeds at the time, so I remember looking at it as a novelty. Of course, in 2008 I would still frequently find movie ticket stubs in my pockets while doing laundry.
Twelve years ago, in 2006, the iPhone didn’t exist yet, and Facebook first opened membership of its social platform to people outside colleges and corporations. I raised my Netflix subscription to three DVDs at a time, though I recall going to the theater to see the climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Eco-friendly was a marketable term, but as a society we still could not reach a consensus whether paper or plastic grocery bags were better for the environment.
The number of movie tickets sold in North America topped 1.5 billion for the first time in 2002. That number has trended downward ever since.
It was 1998, a full 20 years ago, that Netflix first launched its web-based DVD by mail business. The same year, television networks began broadcasting in high definition, bringing near-film-quality images to American living rooms.
Back in the 1996, a passage of near-future sci-fi novel Infinite Jest predicted daily home delivery of DVDs. I clearly remember shaking my head while reading it. No way that would ever work, I thought. Despite numbering over one thousand pages, Infinite Jest outsold another book published that year, one titled Game of Thrones.