Visiting the Netflix Warehouse
August 4, 2009 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Visiting the Netflix Warehouse
posted by sugarfish (59 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read articles like that and I feel like Dorothy v. The Wizard of Oz.
posted by Dagobert at 3:17 PM on August 4, 2009


That was far more fascinating than I expected it to be. No Oompa Loompas or Keebler Elves, just a super streamlined, well oiled and surreal setup.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:19 PM on August 4, 2009


That was a interesting article. I have wondered, from time to time, how the whole operation works and how it's possible that in the five years I've been a member, in various locations on both coasts, I've never been sent the wrong disc.
posted by ob at 3:24 PM on August 4, 2009


For a second there, I had this mad plan to find the Carol Stream location since I'm so relatively close to it. Take the meta data from the article pictures! Survey local office parks for red shirted employees! Put an RFID or other tracking device thingamabob in the disc sleeve!

Then I realized that I am completely mad and need my next cup of coffee.
posted by Askiba at 3:29 PM on August 4, 2009


I've always wondered about this. Thanks.

Now, for the Watch Instantly option, there's a guy in New Jersey with a huge stack of VHS tapes waiting for orders to arrive. There's also about 5 million VCRs that are connected via transcontinental cables to your TiVo, PC, or Xbox 360. Remember Western Union telegraph? That's what they're using those cables for now.
posted by ALongDecember at 3:29 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]



That was a interesting article. I have wondered, from time to time, how the whole operation works and how it's possible that in the five years I've been a member, in various locations on both coasts, I've never been sent the wrong disc.


Elves.
posted by The Whelk at 3:31 PM on August 4, 2009


It was also fascinating that they manually check every single returned disc. I was sure that it had to all be automated with Netflix's numbers.

Back in college, I would have killed for that job.
posted by Benway at 3:32 PM on August 4, 2009


It's unlikely we'll ever see a video or documentary of how the Netflix operations work. This was the next best thing.

I'm sometimes astounded at the return-time for some of my rented discs. On more than one occasion I have put a disc into a mailbox (which notes 4:00 p.m. as "last pickup") near my building at 5:00 p.m./6:00 p.m. That disc is obviously picked-up, makes it to the main Boston sorting facility near Fort Point Channel, trucked to the Netflix facility in Worcester, MA (69 miles away). Late the next morning I have recieved a replacement disc. I'm impressed with the efficency of both Netflix and the USPS in this regard.*

* -- there have been times when replacements have lagged. A friend and I have wondered if there is an algorithm in the system that tracks folks who go through discs especially quickly (in my case during the winter) and place you farther back in a queque. It's also appears that discs are not processed on the weekend.
posted by ericb at 3:32 PM on August 4, 2009


Behind the Scenes at Netflix, a slideshow of a Massachusetts Netflix warehouse from Boston.com.
posted by jocelmeow at 3:37 PM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I remember a year or two ago there was a controversy because Netflix delivered faster to people who viewed less movies.

To which Netflix responded, "Well, duh."

Also, elves. Definitely elves.
posted by elder18 at 3:41 PM on August 4, 2009


Oh, and the only time I have had discs not arrive at their facility was when I mailed them from a company mailroom. After recognizing "the pattern" I started mailing them from a postal box. Since then, I have never had a disc not make it back to their facility.

Once I received one of the USPS sealed ("We're Sorry") plastic bags. In it was a mangled frontpiece portion of a Netflix envelope with my address visible and nothing else. A scrap of red-and-white paper. I called the Netflix customer service number (888-638-3549 -- handing to have around) and mentioned my situation, as there wasn't an appropriate selection online for reporting it. The rep. said that it happens on occasion in the USPS processing and that the disc would likely show up back at one of the Netflix warehouses. She mentioned that with the volume of their shipments the post office assumes a DVD movie with no envelope is one of theirs. Sure enough -- a week later I received an e-mail that the disc had been received.
posted by ericb at 3:48 PM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's unlikely we'll ever see a video or documentary of how the Netflix operations work.

Uh, tah-dah?
posted by jeremy b at 3:49 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


ericb: The Hartford shipping center in photos and video
posted by phatkitten at 3:51 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Behind the Scenes at Netflix, a slideshow of a Massachusetts Netflix...

While my Netflix envelopes state the warehouse address as Worcester, MA 01615 that Boston Globe slideshow indicates there is a facility in Northborough (35 miles) from Boston. Nonetheless, their operation is highly-efficient.
posted by ericb at 3:56 PM on August 4, 2009


ericb: The Hartford shipping center in photos and video...

Thanks for that video.
posted by ericb at 3:58 PM on August 4, 2009


Uh, tah-dah?

As well, thank you.

I recall that Netflix had always been very secretive (as pointed out in the FPP's article). It appears, however, that they have "opened the kimono" a bit with "on background" caveats regarding proprietray systems to those reporting.
posted by ericb at 4:01 PM on August 4, 2009


Interesting that this is posted at the same time proposed post office closings and layoffs, possible cutting of delivery days, etc., is making headlines. Would that hurt Netflix's business? I wonder how many people making comments along the lines of, "Good riddance! Time to get rid of those horse-and-buggy technology," in re to USPS at blogs and whatnot are Netflix subscribers?
posted by raysmj at 4:24 PM on August 4, 2009


Also, customers stuff things into the envelopes. Scribbled movie reviews, complaints, pictures of dogs and kids. That needs sorting too.

Every once in a while, I read something that reassures me that I'm not one of the weirdest people in America.
posted by oaf at 4:31 PM on August 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


I can't use their service on principle, due to the ubiquitous pop-ups and pop-unders they utilize.
posted by desjardins at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd like to think that Netflix, with its massive waste of packaging (yeah, recycle, whatever), is on its way out, as downloading movies becomes more feasible.

I'd like to think that independent video stores will, nevertheless, survive, because they provide a big service in pointing you at new and interesting films.

I'd like a pony and a red wagon, too.
posted by gurple at 4:38 PM on August 4, 2009


Every once in a while, I read something that reassures me that I'm not one of the weirdest people in America.
I'd think that being on MetaFilter would reassure you that you're not even one of the weirdest people on this page.
posted by scrump at 4:49 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


The entire inventory of the building is run through this daily, a process that alerts other warehouses of the location of every one of the 89 million discs owned by Netflix.

Ho. Lee. Shit.

I'm captivated by the notion of an ever-fluctuating inventory of some 89 million objects that is so easily and accurately counted. Daily. Netflix inventories every disc, every day. Obvious in retrospect (they'd kinda hafta do that, now wouldn't they?), I guess....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:56 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't use their service on principle, due to the ubiquitous pop-ups and pop-unders they utilize.

It really is remarkable how much good will Netflix enjoys, despite their advertising techniques.
posted by brundlefly at 5:00 PM on August 4, 2009


I'm not one of those early adopter folks - never had Tivo, etc. - but I gotta say I'm very pleased with Netflix.

Most of my viewing is of the Watch Instantly kind. I've probably seen two hundred movies and tv episodes via their streaming service. I also get the two-at-a-time discs, for those newer movies that aren't available online. The turnaround is quick (within 2-3 days) and I've only once gotten a bad disc. With the exception of a couple of laggy streaming experiences (which may not be their fault), I've been very impressed with their setup.

(One of my favorite Netflix experiences of the past few months: finding that they had "Harry in Your Pocket" available to Watch Instantly. I hadn't seen that movie since I was a kid in the early 70s and had never seen it in any video store in many years of looking.)
posted by darkstar at 5:03 PM on August 4, 2009


Oh, and I don't see the pop-ups and pop-unders, but that may be due to my browser blocking them.
posted by darkstar at 5:04 PM on August 4, 2009


Somehow Netflix, and only Netflix, manages to get around my Ad Blocker.
posted by brundlefly at 5:11 PM on August 4, 2009


I'd like to think that Netflix, with its massive waste of packaging (yeah, recycle, whatever), is on its way out, as downloading movies becomes more feasible.

it's amazing how minimal the packaging is.

I've gone thru 883 discs in just over 3 years for a total cost of $925. Vive le NetFlix!

It really is remarkable how much good will Netflix enjoys, despite their advertising techniques.

people get butthurt over the oddest things.
posted by @troy at 5:23 PM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


people get butthurt over the oddest things

I like Netflix a lot, but popup ads are widely considered an annoyance, are they not? The web equivalent of spam? As far as I know, Netflix is the only large company that still uses them.
posted by brundlefly at 5:31 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


>I'd like to think that Netflix, with its massive waste of packaging (yeah, recycle, whatever), is on its way out, as downloading movies becomes more feasible.

Hrrmmm? What would you have Netflix do to make their packaging less wasteful? The shipping envelope already doubles as the return envelope (minus one panel), and they reuse the sleeves. To my knowledge, they don't do any paper billing—in fact, I don't think I've ever gotten a piece of mail from them that didn't contain a movie. I suppose they could eliminate the disposable panel somehow, but it seems like they're already pretty damn efficient in the packaging department.
posted by ixohoxi at 5:45 PM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


And, yeah, WTF browser are you using that you see pop-ups and pop-unders?
posted by ixohoxi at 5:46 PM on August 4, 2009


Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my popup blocker. Prepare to die.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:50 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen a Netflix or Expedia popup since Bush's first term.
posted by birdherder at 6:04 PM on August 4, 2009


Until I can download a movie with all the contents and extra features of a disc, I will be using Netflix.

Interesting read, thanks.
posted by MaritaCov at 6:06 PM on August 4, 2009


A friend and I have wondered if there is an algorithm in the system that tracks folks who go through discs especially quickly (in my case during the winter) and place you farther back in a queque.


http://www.google.com/search?q=netflix+throttling

http://dvd-rent-test.dreamhost.com/ (from 2003!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netflix#.22Throttling.22


http://www.hackingnetflix.com/
posted by intermod at 6:58 PM on August 4, 2009


I go through my theoretical max (2 batches of 3 discs each week) for months and I got the BSG 4.5 season DVDs hot off the press. I have two entries in my queue that have "short wait" on them.

The few occasions Netflix has had to send from out of state they've sent me a freebie from the local center. Probably helps to be in their hometown but I don't see throttling from here.
posted by @troy at 7:14 PM on August 4, 2009


I see "short wait" pretty regularly for certain new releases, but that doesn't mean they don't show up on my doorstep sooner rather than later, even though I have been known to fail and put things in upside down.

I've always wondered about the system, too. I'd love to watch more things instantly, but I love the DVD extras and I'm not ready to give them up.
posted by immlass at 7:39 PM on August 4, 2009


intermod -- thanks for the info on "throttling." Ya' learn something new every day!
posted by ericb at 7:46 PM on August 4, 2009


I recall that Netflix had always been very secretive (as pointed out in the FPP's article). It appears, however, that they have "opened the kimono" a bit

This may be due to the fact that nobody in their right mind would attempt to duplicate Netflix's DVD-centered business model at this "late date." The biz magazines are full of stories about how it's a shrinking business getting eaten up by on-demand services.
posted by Mid at 8:34 PM on August 4, 2009


For videogames, yah, totally, Gamestop is basically a pawn shop now... but DVDs have special features and commentary and the mail thing is so much easier, for me, than buying a new box, and the return system so smooth.... so I figure Netflix has the lock on the movies-in-your-mailbox thing and while that might shrink, they're not going to see much competition in that area and it's still going to be a big chunk of the market. People like my Mom are still getting used to DVDs, and the Netflix program works perfectly for her and for casual movie watchers. I don't see the whole system going on-demand for a while, so the movie-in-a-mailbox has a lot of life in it yet.

Now if someone else does better on-demand, they'll be behind in that, but they allready have the name and so far no real trouble with their on-demand services. From what I've heard anyway.

speaking as someone with a 2 disc a day habit
posted by The Whelk at 8:41 PM on August 4, 2009


And yeah, I'm a heavy user and noticed the slowness on new releases but my queue is long enough that I don't care and I rarely need to see something RIGHT NOW. The happy little envelope of entertainment ever few days is enough for me.

okay, out loud, that sounds kinda bravenewworldy. Huh
posted by The Whelk at 8:43 PM on August 4, 2009


I'd like to think that Netflix, with its massive waste of packaging (yeah, recycle, whatever), is on its way out, as downloading movies becomes more feasible.

From the article: Netflix is already streaming movies online and through TiVo and Xbox 360s, and the service is looking toward the day when discs are outmoded and warehouses like this one redundant.

That's 10 years off, maybe more, Swasey said.


They're right there with ya, gurple.
posted by cgc373 at 9:01 PM on August 4, 2009


I worked for the Health Ministry and interviewed for positions at assorted Family/Child services type Ministries. The descriptions of the security are very reminiscent of some of the Ministries non-public locations. Most memorable was with the Ministry responsible for welfare. Obviously not everyone working for the ministry is a case worker but without precautions people would show up at any ministry offices looking for cheques or to rant, even those that had no relation to case work. Often the scary people. So security was tight like something out of a Hollywood bank.

The building was located in a medium-heavy industry area which was kind of freaky as I followed directions on the way in. There was a saw mill and a foundry across the street. The apparently run down building had zero indication it was occupied by the government. Not even the ubiquitous BCBC stickers one usually sees on any kind of government building. Just a dirty set of street numbers above the nondescript door. One buzzed in via a plain intercom in the vestibule. Inside was a lobby with glass cage style access control doors like you see in pawn shops on movies. The guard had to let you in to the first stage and then you were held there until the person you were seeing came down to escort you. Or I supposed the cops were called to take you away if you didn't belong. Once past the gauntlet the inside was like any other government cube farm except for a distinct lack of usable windows.
posted by Mitheral at 9:34 PM on August 4, 2009


And, yeah, WTF browser are you using that you see pop-ups and pop-unders?

FF on XP (my work computer). Haven't seen it on my Mac. It's not that common, but on the rare occasions a popup makes it through, it's Netflix.

(Thanks for the post. Good read.)
posted by brundlefly at 9:40 PM on August 4, 2009


ixohoxi wrote: I don't think I've ever gotten a piece of mail from them that didn't contain a movie.

You must not have been a customer back in the olden days when they first changed their logo to something that looked like the word Netflix on a TV screen and started using the yellow and black color scheme. They did that rebrand about the time they stopped offering one off timed rentals. (Yes, they did use the mail order video store model at one point, $5 for a week, IIRC..terrible deal)

Anyway, as part of the rebrand, they sent subscribers a little plastic stand that would hold your four DVDs. I lost it a move or two ago. :(

That was before they screwed me out of my $19.95/mo four out deal. (and that was a significant increase from the original price)

I'm still refusing to pay for netflix over that, but my SO recently obtained a subscription, so I'm part of a Netflix household again.
posted by wierdo at 9:46 PM on August 4, 2009


I just dumped NetFlix... after sitting on two movies for a month..it finally made sense to just go to the video store when I wanted a movie.....
posted by HuronBob at 5:22 AM on August 5, 2009


I can't use their service on principle, due to the ubiquitous pop-ups and pop-unders they utilize.

This discussion is quite ironic considering that the linked Tribune article also has a popup ad.
posted by smackfu at 5:59 AM on August 5, 2009


For those who want to recycle their Netflix envelope flaps into attractive snack trays and Christmas ornaments: Netflix Origami.

<gripe>I would love to switch to streaming movies, but Netflix still does not provide captions or subtitles on most downloaded movies. </gripe>
posted by Soliloquy at 8:32 AM on August 5, 2009


I read almost the same article about the relatively new Hartford Return Center in the Hartford Courant a few weeks ago. The Courant is a Tribune-family paper. Wonder how many other Tribune papers have been 'invited' behind the red door?
posted by pupdog at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2009


I would love to switch to streaming movies, but Netflix still does not provide captions or subtitles on most downloaded movies.

well that seals the deal for me. screw 'em.
posted by desjardins at 10:02 AM on August 5, 2009


further tangential rant: under the ADA, why are physical businesses required to have handicapped parking spaces and wheelchair ramps, but media companies don't have to provide subtitled shows/films? It would seem like the former is a much bigger expense than the latter.
posted by desjardins at 10:27 AM on August 5, 2009


The lack of captioning options (mainly when I want to caption a UK accent I can't understand, or play explodey movies quieter and still know what's being said) is my only minimal complaint about netflix streaming. Although I know of no other download / streaming service that does this either -- I've had the same issue with Amazon and Itunes.
posted by garlic at 10:55 AM on August 5, 2009


I'm still waiting to see this Netflix throttling I've been expecting for months now. Cheapy plan, 1 disc at a time, unlimited rentals, and when I'm in my stride I can usually watch/return the discs within a day or two of viewing them. As soon as it's back, boom, another one is sent. Maybe because it's older movies?
posted by cavalier at 10:56 AM on August 5, 2009


cav, throttling will only be seen if you try to rent in-demand new releases.

But at your rate you won't get throttled at all. Me, on the other hand, I'm surprised NetFlix is still taking my business :)
posted by @troy at 11:34 AM on August 5, 2009


Is there a technical reason on the end of the streaming provider (Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix, etc.) that they don't provide a captioning option?
posted by ericb at 11:34 AM on August 5, 2009


Aww geez, and here I was twirling my moustache every time I sent a disc back in. Guess I'm too casual!

I think I've totally boned my reccomended viewing system with them, though. I went through an 80's binge and now I never get any new releases reccomended. :D
posted by cavalier at 11:47 AM on August 5, 2009


Hey, I work for Netflix.

Yeah, the no subtitle thing for streaming sucks. ericb, there was a Netflix blog post last month explaining why that hasn't been implemented yet. Short answer: they're working on it, but engineering is hard, and it'll take time.

Oh man, I totally want to drop a bunch of knowledge about shipping allocation and what people call "throttling", but that's all SEEKRIT and I can't really talk about it in a public forum. If anyone has questions about that (or Netflix stuff in general), feel free to MeMail me.
posted by maqsarian at 12:09 PM on August 5, 2009


Is there a technical reason on the end of the streaming provider (Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix, etc.) that they don't provide a captioning option?

Hulu does have captions now, at least where the source material is captioned. It looks like they are overlaying them on the Flash video.

It's pretty incredible that Netflix just switched their streaming format entirely, to Silverlight which is a brand new technology, but still don't have closed captions. The blog post above just kind of says "it's hard to show subtitle files because Silverlight has no support for it".
posted by smackfu at 12:45 PM on August 5, 2009


The bin to the right is for acceptable discs, the bin to the left is for damaged discs or discs not in the proper sleeve.

Anyone want to guess which fribble the person responsible for that set-up would think looked more intelligent?
posted by Bukvoed at 12:56 PM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I hardly ever get throttled even when I am returning movies during the week (rather than after the weekend) and thus I went through 5-6 a week rather than 3. I rent TV shows rather than movies, which might be a factor, but I've gotten even the most popular releases right off the bat lately.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2009


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