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Once-mocked Netflix rents 1 billionth DVD

SAN FRANCISCO -- Netflix Inc. delivered its 1 billionth DVD over the weekend, marking another milestone in the Internet rental service's evolution from a peculiar dot-com to a marquee attraction in millions of homes.

It took Netflix nearly 7.5 years to mail out 1 billion DVDs, about seven months less than it took McDonald's Corp. to sell 1 billion hamburgers after opening its first restaurant in April 1955.

To commemorate the occasion, Netflix is awarding a lifetime subscription to the Texas, customer who received the 1 billionth DVD.

Netflix's concept was once was mocked as just another wacky idea to emerge from the Internet boom of the late 1990s. But instead of fading into dot-com oblivion, Netflix is fast becoming as much of a household fixture as the living room couch. Last year alone, Netflix signed up 2.1 million new customers, who pay anywhere from $4.99 to $47.99 per month for DVD rentals that are requested online and delivered by mail.

Netflix has inspired a copycat service from the nation's largest video rental chain, Blockbuster Inc., which says it has dispensed billions of movies since its first store opened in 1985. Dallas-based Blockbuster has signed up than 2 million subscribers for its online service.

But Blockbuster's challenge hasn't derailed Netflix, which is now shipping an average of 1.5 million DVDs each weekday. At that pace, it will take Netflix about 2.5 years to mail out its next 1 billion discs.

But it probably won't take that long, given how fast Netflix has been growing. Management believes the service will add another 1.7 million to 2.1 million more subscribers this year, leaving it with more than 8 million customers heading into 2008.