How IMDb came to be and Production
IMDb, acronym for Internet Movie database, is an online database of information that tracks pretty much everything to do about films and television series. Originally a fan operated website, the database is now operated by IMDB.com INC which is owned as a subsidiary under Amazon. As a wholly owned subsidiary under Amazon, IMDB is based in Seattle, but the office of the founder Col Needham, remains in Bristol, England, where it was founded. IMDB, the 57th most trafficked website to date, was founded in the late 1980’s on a USENET board called rec.arts.movies where movie buffs swapped lists of actors, casts, directors and other trivia. (Hyatt, 2012) USENET is a bulletin board discussion system which originally began as a competitor to the internet, it allowed users to read and post messages to one or more categories known as Newsgroups.
The stated founding date of IMDb was October 17, 1990, when Needham posted a movie-listing software in response to another member in a USENET film discussion group. In October 1990 a member on the USENET group posted the following: (Sawers, 2015)
Does anyone out there have a UNIX or C program which can ‘interrogate’ the actor/actress files? What I want to be able to do is to type in an actor/actress’ name and get out a list of all the films which they appeared in. Similarly, typing in a film name would give a list of all the actors/actresses who were in that film.
In response, Needham developed and posted a collection of UNIX shell scripts which could be used to search the database of movie data: (Hyatt, 2012)
I have produced a set of Unix scripts to create a movie database using the information on the lists. They make it easy to search for all appearances by an actor/actress or all the cast and director of a particular movie and are available by email if you missed them.
Coincidently, Needham’s interest in movies had led him to create a long kept track of the details about every movie he watched long before the message was posted. His response in the USENET group made his database public so others could use it. The users of the new database would then go on to contribute new data, categories and software developments
Over a period of 6 years, IMDB shifted from a volunteer -led USENET group into a company and online encyclopaedic force. The service was cooperatively expanded and graduated onto the web via Cardiff University’s servers in 1993, before becoming IMDB.com as a fully incorporated company in 1996 – just in time for the Oscars. (Sawers, 2015) Here is the link for Needham’s important announcement regarding IMDb’s transition into a company:
Two years later, along with two other companies (Book pages and Telebook – local online book stores in UK and Germany respectively), Amazon struck a deal with Needham to acquire IMDB for a combined value of 55 million. During that time, Amazon was an online book seller which was in the process of expanding their product line. They intended to use to IMDb as a platform for sales of videotapes and DVDs. (Lewis, 2017) As Needham explained: “ Jeff explained Amazon was a primarily a bookseller, but would be moving from books to other things such as video, and he was looking for a site to partner with. Maybe a licensing deal or an outright acquisition. He painted a very clear vision of how IMDB would exist with Amazon as a separate brand. Amazon would use IMDb data to help build one of the internet’s biggest stores.” (Sawers, 2015)
In 2002, under its parent company Amazon, the company started IMDbPro to increase their functionality. Up to that point, IMDB was a place where cinephiles would visit to find all kinds of geeky data on films, directors and celebrities. But as a company that did not want to solely rely on plastering ads across their webpage, they had to find an alternative to bring in revenue. IMDbPro is a fee based service (subscription) for professionals in the entertainment industry and provided a variety of services that allowed access to important and usable information. Not only that, the service allowed to people to manage their profiles, browse casting notices and most important of all – network with others from the same industry.
In 2008, IMDb also acquired two companies – Box Office Mojo and Withoutabox. With both being based in LA, Box office Mojo is a service that tracks box office revenues and Withoutabox aimed at helping indie film makers distribute their works. (Sawers, 2015) There are clear integrations between Amazon and IMDb, as Amazon uses data from IMDb ratings for their own video platforms, not only that, IMDb also links through Amazon to sell relevant content to those using their platform.
Later on in 2012, Amazon X-Ray used IMDb data to serve up relevant data related to whatever was streaming on the platform. X-Ray provided important information on actors, directors and even trivia. What sets it apart from the rest of the competitors such as Netflix was rather than having to look up information on a second screen, you could interact and find most of the relevant information with the movie/ series one was watching. (Sawers, 2015)
The early IMDB wasn’t exactly like the well-made website today’s users are used to, but for its time back then it was impressive nonetheless. Even to this day, users could still actively search for several fields, such as character name, production company or browse curated features like a user selected list of the top 250 movies. (Rothman, 2015) Today, IMDb claims more than 200 million unique monthly visitors across the web and mobile platforms, with over 180 million ‘data items’, three million movies, TV series, and information on six million cast and crew members. Excluding the previously mentioned information, some of the data items encompasses more in depth content which include personal biographies, plot summaries, trivia, ratings and last but not least reviews from both critics and fans.
Amazon had spun off a subscription based pro version to separate the professionals from the fans, and had beefed up user forums around the turn of the millennium. The forums/message boards served as a home for cinephiles and film geeks – allowing people to share thoughts and opinions on a wide range of films and TV series. At one point, it wouldn’t have been uncommon for multiple threads to be active at once, with all of them being on the same movie. But when IMDb decided to kill off their messaging boards in early 2017, they had essentially ended a unique feature that had tens of thousands of people active since the birth of the internet.
There are multiple ways that IMDb make money, out of which, advertising is their primary source of revenue and IMDb pro is another. IMDbPro charges a fee for its services aimed at entertainment professionals. This fee gives the account owner access to film production and box office details, company directories, contact details and even in-development titles. Depending on the length of service, IMDbPro charges the following:
- Individual Monthly – $19.99
- Individual Annual – $149.99
- Group plan Monthly – $79.99
In return for the investment, one would get: (Jamie, 2020)
- An IMDb name page with vanity URL
- Resume page
- Place to add demo reels, breakdowns, and roles
- Image gallery with headshots and up to 100 images
- Twitter and blog feed
- The ability to post notices and apply for roles
Even though IMdbPro was intended for industry professionals, in practice, most subscribers are just film lovers who enjoy exclusive information such as productions on the horizon and host of other resources for budding entertainers and professionals.
Professionals also have the option to upload images, reels, featured photos, resume, contact details and many more to their IMDb page. A couple of years ago, IMDbPro also added the pro casting service – listing service featuring casting calls, auditions, and upcoming roles. (Jamie, 2020)The pro casting service worked well in allowing aspiring stars, screen writers, directors and many more to find work. But the main role of IMDbPro was not designed to be the place where professionals would find a role, it is still primarily used for research, to find out what’s happening in the industry, where and with whom.
IMDbPro also provides functions called STARmeter, MOVIEmeter and COMPANYmeter that suits professionals who like to track their influence within the industry, insights into the popularity of films and TV series as well as the people and companies who make them.
Identity and representation
During Amazon’s earlier years, IMDB played a large role in expanding amazon from a book seller to a more diverse E commerce/technology company. They provided the much needed data to help Amazon sell films and TV shows to the wider public.
Currently, IMDb is the most comprehensive internet movie database there is with an almost complete cast record. In addition, IMDb also acts as a:
- A database for films, shows and broadcasts
- System utilising voting as a Tool for deciding whether or not to watch a film
- News site for current affairs in the entertainment industry
- Tool for industry professionals to network with each other
- Tool to help find movies and shows of different genres
- Place to find information and trivia on past and current films and shows
One of the reasons why IMDb is used by a lot of people is due to its rating system, it is highly trusted and usually represents the overall general opinion of the public. Interesting enough, IMDb doesn’t have any jury or panel to decide the ratings, instead, registered members of IMDb are the ones who give the rating. IMDb effectively takes all the individual votes cast by registered users and uses them to calculate a single rating. The rating system highly influences how people consider watching films as users get to view other people’s opinions. Furthermore, IMDb has a review section for both users and critics that give a general and in-depth review of the films and shows to offer. For anyone who is struggling to pick their next film, this would essentially be their go to spot.
IMDb’s IMDbPro provides an excellent resource for screenwriters to get their work noticed, for actors to display themselves, for filmmakers and producers to search for talents, for journalists to research topics and for general film geeks who wish to know every detail about their favourite films. (Jamie, 2020) It could be said that they made professionals within the industry have an easier time networking with each other and find out about the most recent developments. This effectively encouraged more castings and diverse collaborations as communication was made easier between people
IMDb’s messaging forums represented a decades old community that freely shared information with each other on films and shows. It allowed people to share their opinions freely and also interact with others who may or may not have the same views. From fan clubs to critic groups, the messaging forum was extremely diverse and it represented the views and opinions of a broad film community. IMDb’s choice to remove the messaging boards can be represented as a betrayal of what IMDb was about: nurturing and feeding of a robust community where people could share their opinions, thoughts, information and passions. (Burr, 2017) But this didn’t happen without reason, by then, many messaging boards were infested with trolls and had negatively impacted the productivity of discourse.
All registered users of IMDb are able to cast their votes/reviews for any film or show. IMDb takes all the individual votes cast by the users and utilises them to calculate a single rating which is viewable on the website. The rating show on a films page is a weighted normal rating based on the responses and recorded on a scale from 1-10. (S Thakur, 2020)
But they don’t use arithmetic mean or median of the votes to get the final rating. IMDb has never disclosed their method of voting as they fear the system may be manipulated. Their rating method is used across all film and show genre to ensure that there are no bias in evaluations and that the ratings are reasonable and fair. If one wants to know the breakdown of a rating, they are also provided by IMDb and categorised on the basis of votes, percentage, age of users, gender and ratings. (S Thakur, 2020)
All users who contribute content to the database retain copyright on their contributions but the content itself becomes the exclusive property of IMDb with the full right to copy, modify and sublicense it. In addition, a credited text entry such as a plot summary can be corrected for content by other users without having to add their names as co-authors. IMDb differs from other database projects like Wikipedia, discogs or Fandom in that users cannot modify data on impulse, the manipulation of data is controlled entirely by a section manager who is part of IMDb technology and a paid staff member. (History of Domains, 2020)
It is apparent that IMDb is an incredibly diverse company within the entertainment industry. They cater to both professionals and the general public,. As one of the oldest web based companies, they haven’t actually deviated much from their original purpose – an internet movie database for the general public. Even after becoming an amazon subsidiary, IMDb has managed to retain its identity and considerable autonomy.
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