What’s going on in this photo?

Macarena lessons? A support group for elbowless people? Nope, this photo was taken at a Netflix distribution center, where envelope openers are taking a stretching break. It turns out that at Netflix facilities many tasks, including opening envelopes, inspecting discs, and stuffing envelopes are performed by hand.

The article linked above was pretty light on details, but this one has some great photos and a very informative video (embedded below). I imagined a Netflix distribution facility to include a warehouse filled floor-to-ceiling with DVDs, but apparently they only need a small handful of shelving units:

Netflix distribution center
Netflix distribution center

Which makes sense, I suppose, when you consider how densely the discs can be stored. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that on each shelf in the photo above, they can fit about 3500 DVDs. I can see at least 40 shelves in the photo, which means they’re storing at least 140,000 discs. Netflix claims they stock 100,000 films, so that lower bound feels about right, but I bet their distribution centers have closer to 2-300,000 discs not out on rental at any given point.

Netflix’s operation is remarkably efficient and well-engineered, which isn’t surprising for a company that’s offering a million dollars to anyone who can improve their recommendation algorithm by 10%.