IMDb’s founder talks about his love for movies and the company’s huge growth over the years.
The rain slapped down on Saturday, May 18 in Cannes, yet Col Needham was as cheerful as the sun that didn’t shine. Sitting inside the American Pavilion, seemingly oblivious to the chaos outdoors, the IMDb founder declared the number.
Needham has watched 8,277 films in his life. The tally will rise by the end of the festival, but at that moment he’d just seen The Past and confessed to a week-kneed wobble when Asghar Farhadi walked by [the pair are pictured together].
Neehdam was 14 when he started a database of film titles, typing the credits from video boxes into his Sharp M2 80K computer. He got online early, in 1985, and it went from there until he wrote the code that launched IMDb in 1990.
Twenty-three years later and the service is a constantly evolving multi-platform behemoth owned by Amazon. In September IMDb launched X-Ray, which allows Kindle users to tap the screen on a face and read all about that person – great for identifying eunfamiliar actors or voice cast in animation.
“When we started we were just volunteers and recruited other experts who were passionate about areas of film and built it up from there,” said Needham. He incorporated IMDb in time for the 1996 Oscars and two weeks later personally sold the first ad on the site.
Amazon bought the service in 1998. “We operate as an independent subsidy within the group and we get access to their products,” said Needham, “so the recommendation data technology on IMDb is powered by their tech.”
Subscription service IMDb Pro launched 11 years ago to provide a deeper dive for industry professionals in search of more data. Then they introduced the star rating system, which gauges celebrity popularity and acts as a de facto tracking service.
The mobile app launched in 2009 and there have been more than 70million downloads since. Needham estimated that roughly half of all IMDb page views come from phones, tablets and devices. “The idea is to be wherever our customers need us.”
The 160m visitors to IMDb will like hearing that. Needham likes hearing about the 160m visitors. “I have to pinch myself,” he said with a shrill laugh.
“There we were walking the red carpet for The Great Gatsby and Steven Spielberg and Nicole Kidman were there. Things have changed since I grew up watching films in Manchester.
“I’m a lifelong film fan. The earliest I remember seeing a film was Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Odeon in Manchester when I was four.
“Jaws had real impact in terms of understanding how cinema could shape people. I saw Star Wars on its opening weekend and when Alien came out on video, I watched it 14 times in 14 days.”