Reed Hastings took the store out of video rental. With Netflix, a company that mails DVDs to customers, who keep online queues of what they want to see next, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur jolted the likes of Wal-Mart and Blockbuster into a new business model: one in which consumers bid adieu to limited selection, late fees and going farther than the mailbox to pick up a flick for Saturday night. For film buffs, Netflix is a treasure trove 40,000 titles strong. For a Hollywood obsessed with blockbusters, it's both handmaiden and counterweighta broad new distribution channel but one that gives equal billing to small and independent films. And for small-time studios, the company is a kingmaker, able to propel films via Internet word of mouth.
Hastings, 44, a computer scientist by training, started Netflix in 1997 after getting hit with a $40 late fee at Blockbuster. But the world's largest video chain is shooting back with its version of DVDs by mail. With other heavyweights like Amazon.com testing the water, there's a risk Netflix could become a victim of its success. Yet no matter what happens to Netflix the company, Netflix the concept is here to stay. Consumers have already been retrained to expect greater diversityobscure documentaries, Bollywood hitsat their fingertips. And for movie watchers, that's a happy ending.