Blockbuster was a video rental chain that focused on new releases in the movie industry and had locations around the world, peaking at 9,000 locations in 2004. However, most of the company's revenue came from late fees on DVD returns, not from the rentals themselves. These fees brought the company $800 million dollars in 2000, about 16% of its revenue, but also antagonized customers.
Netflix, on the other hand, provided DVDs ordered from its Web site and offered its customers unlimited rentals on a monthly subscription basis. In other words, it liquidated late fees.
Netflix founder Reed Hastings, knowing many people's dislike of Blockbuster's fees, even worked them into the origin story of the company itself, saying for years that he founded Netflix because he owed $40 in late fees for the movie Apollo 13.
Netflix has become attractive to some customers for more than just the freedom from late fees. Without the physical limitations of keeping discs on the premises, the company could offer a much larger catalog of movies, including niche film categories. Plus, Netflix offered home delivery of movies. Customers could watch movies at their own tempo. They didn't have to drive to a physical location and could send them back when it was more comfortable for them.
As Blockbuster stayed focused on new releases, the company didn't see Netflix as a major threat. Blockbuster even turned down an opportunity to purchase the company for $50 million in 2000.
Seven years later, Netflix has evolved into an online streaming service. Suddenly, the monthly fee Netflix customers paid gave them access to unlimited content and saved them from waiting for delivery.
The choice was no longer between a trip to Blockbuster or waiting for an order, but between renting a disk or simply pressing a button on a computer screen. Blockbuster later also tried to launch its digital download service, but that attempt failed and the company filed for banking failure a few years later.
Today, Netflix is already positioned as a major player in the global streaming market, which could be worth nearly $150 billion in the coming years.
Once upon a time, the high cost of storage for new releases helped contribute to Blockbuster's downfall. And now Netflix faces a similar problem, paying large sums on licensed content as it has developed competitors like Disney, Apple, NBCUniversal and Warner Media (HBO).
Netflix's business depends heavily on the content of these new competitors. Three of the four most streamed shows at the end of 2019 are from legacy media companies launching their own services - NBCUniversal's "The Office," Warner's "Friends" and Disney's "Grey's Anatomy."
Netflix reportedly paid $100 million to keep showing "Friends" in 2019. That's three times as much as it has in previous years. Since licensed content accounts for about two-thirds of total viewing hours on the platform, the question is: What happens to Netflix if it loses these shows?
Netflix's response to this potential threat has been to increase spending on producing its own shows. In 2018, the company spent about $15 billion on original content. But that strategy hasn't been fully effective. In its second-quarter 2019 investor letter, the company recognized that "content drove less growth in paid net adds than we expected."
With a shrinking catalog and rising prices per month in 2019, Netflix's situation was a reminder that innovation is cyclical. In 2020-2022, Netflix ventured into a new round of development in producing its own content and has succeeded. This proves the cyclical nature of the development of any innovation. That's why leaders in Silicon Valley are so driven to outperform themselves before they are destroyed by someone else.
Facebook's famous phrase for teaching new employees the company's values is, "If we don't create the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will."
"It's always day one," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos regularly reminds his team and investors.