The fascinating history of Netflix

The iconic “Tudum” is now a sound most people are familiar with. But did you know Netflix actually started off as a DVD rental company. Netflix is now more commonly known as a subscription streaming service and production company. However, this wasn’t always the case.

Netflix was founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph. The two American entrepreneurs had an idea to rent DVDs by mail. They tested the concept by mailing themselves a DVD. The DVD arrived intact, and thus the idea for Netflix was born. And aren’t we so grateful for that?

The name Netflix is a combination of “Net” (as in the abbreviation for “internet” and “Flix” (a variation of “flick”, the common abbreviation for a movie or film). A little aside: some South African social media users have pointed out the fact that Netflix means “just movies” in Afrikaans.

In 1998, Netflix launched, the first DVD rental and sales site. In 1999, Netflix debuted its subscription service, offering members unlimited DVD rentals without due dates, late fees, or monthly rental limits. Netflix was first launched in Scotts Valley, California and in 2005 the membership grew to five million. In 2010, Netflix was launched in Canada and streaming was launched on mobile devices. In 2011, Netflix launched in Latin America and the Caribbean. From 2012 the membership reached 25 million members, and expanded into the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Nordic Countries. Netflix launched in South Africa and across the African continent in 2016. 


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Netflix is the most nominated studio at the Academy Awards and Emmys. In 2017, Netflix won its first Academy Award, for The White Helmets. At the Emmys, in 2018 Netflix was the most nominated studio, winning 23 for series including GLOW, Godless and Queer Eye. In 2019, Netflix won four Academy Awards, for ROMA and Period. 


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How does Netflix license TV shows and movies?

Netflix partners with content providers to license streaming rights for a variety of TV shows and movies. Netflix also produces in-house or acquires exclusive rights to stream content, these productions are called Netflix originals.

The Korean show, Squid Game is currently Netflix’s number one show of all time with 1,65 billion hours streamed in the first four weeks. Squid Game beat out Bridgerton, which reached about 82 million households within its first 28 days on the platform. That’s equivalent to more than 182 000 years in total! 


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Netflix might have been the first streaming service to exist. However, the market is now flooded with streaming services. Over the past year, South Africa has been buzzing with streaming platform launches. In 2021, 36.45 million South Africans accessed the internet through a mobile device.


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Despite its massive popularity, Netflix has been caught in several controversies over the years. Most recently has been the backlash following the release of Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special, The Closer.  Chappelle and Netflix have been widely criticised for Chappelle’s transphobic jokes. Many trans people felt Chappelle’s comedy had escalated into overt hate and they’ve been voicing their complaints directly to Netflix. However, Netflix recently suspended a trans employee who tweeted about the special’s transphobia.

Learn more about the story of Netflix.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons