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Why one NPR correspondent finally ditched DVDs for streaming

ALINA SELYUKH, HOST:

Tonight, lots of people will skip the parties and instead curl up with a good movie on any one of a number of streaming services, maybe even falling asleep before the credits roll and long before the countdown to 2023. Scott Horsley may be among them because this year he finally joined the streaming revolution after dropping his old-fashioned DVD by mail service. We thought this was a good chance to check in on the streaming landscape. Scott is, of course, NPR's chief economics correspondent, who joins us now. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Alina.

SELYUKH: Scott, what took you so long?

HORSLEY: (Laughter) As you know, I am not exactly an early adopter. I still have rabbit ears on my TV set.

SELYUKH: Oh, no.

HORSLEY: And I didn't even have home internet until the pandemic struck. And I did already have the original Netflix service, you know, the old-school kind where you get the DVDs in the mail.

SELYUKH: The DVD is in the mail - I suspect a lot of people listening have no idea that's still a thing.

HORSLEY: I confess, I thought I might be the last Stone Age subscriber, but it turns out there're about a million and a half of us. It is a dwindling tribe, though, and the service could be phased out altogether before too long. So a few weeks ago, I bit the bullet and watched my last Netflix DVD.

SELYUKH: What a meaningful milestone. What was it?

HORSLEY: It was "Coco," the animated Day of the Dead movie from Disney-Pixar.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COCO")

ANTHONY GONZALES AND ANA OFELIA MURGUIA: (As Miguel and Mama Coco, singing) Remember me.

SELYUKH: It's kind of a perfect last DVD.

HORSLEY: Well, it sent me down my own memory lane back to when getting a red envelope from Netflix was its own form of cutting-edge entertainment. I actually made a reporting trip to a Netflix mail center in California back in 2005 at a time when the company was shipping out some 7 million DVDs every week.

SELYUKH: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

STEVE SWAYZE: So this is going to Long Beach. This is going to Mojave.

HORSLEY: It was kind of a cross between Silicon Valley algorithms and Sears and Roebuck's mail order operation. Of course, that's long since been eclipsed by the streaming service, which has about 50 times as many subscribers in the U.S.

SELYUKH: And actually, now Netflix also faces a huge amount of competition in the streaming business, right?

HORSLEY: Absolutely. You know, people are watching more streaming video now than they are cable or broadcast television. But industry analyst Brett Sappington says making money in streaming today is not easy.

BRETT SAPPINGTON: The challenge is that at $7 a month, $10 a month, even $15 a month, it's difficult to make $100 million movies and to be able to be profitable.

HORSLEY: So the gold rush mentality of recent years is giving way to newfound caution. And as a result, you're seeing cost-cutting, layoffs and fewer new programs being ordered.

SELYUKH: At the same time, honestly, as a viewer, it still can feel a bit overwhelming with way too many streaming options to choose from.

HORSLEY: That's right. And no one-stop shop where you can turn to.

SELYUKH: Exactly.

HORSLEY: To get everything you want, you might have to subscribe to three, four, five different services. And Sappington says some viewers are hitting a saturation point.

SAPPINGTON: They may keep a service for a movie or for a particular series when it comes out, and then they have to make a decision, do I keep this, or do I move on to a different service?

HORSLEY: Eventually, analysts think there's going to be a shakeout and some of these services will disappear, just like mail-order DVDs. But you know, Alina, keep in mind, that's nothing new in this industry. There's actually a comedy TV show right now set in what's supposed to be the last Blockbuster video store. You can stream it on Netflix.

SELYUKH: Ah, the Blockbuster nostalgia. That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks, Scott, for being here and welcome to the future - back to the future? One of those things.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COCO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing) Remember me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.