Time Out meets the man behind the movies’ go-to website
It's not news anymore that the geeks have inherited the Earth but Col Needham, who started the Internet Movie Database, did it before anyone else. Beginning as a collection of databases passed around on bulletin boards before the web as we know it even existed, IMDb.com was acquired in 1998 by Amazon for an undisclosed sum (undoubtedly in the tens of millions) and is the go-to entertainment source online.
Col, as a kid in Manchester, did you imagine being so pivotal to the film industry one day?
Funnily enough, I was always more interested in technology. I was big on science fiction films though, and I think it inspired me to do something in technology. Those two interests were kind of on a collision course to the creation of IMDb.
When did you realise it could me more than a programming hobby?
The web went mainstream in 1995 and our traffic was doubling every two weeks. I came home from my day job one day and my wife said a reporter had called from The New York Times. I called him back and he was talking about how everyone in the film industry was using the site. We had to turn it into a business to take it to the next level.
Did you basically tell the list manager “guys, we have to quit our jobs and do this?”
That's a pretty good summary actually. We amicably divided the shares depending on how long we'd been involved and what our roles were. The first time myself and the other three directors met was in our lawyer's office signing the incorporation papers.
Presumably you don't still sit there tinkering with programming. What's your day job now?
I'm still a very regular moviegoer. Other than that it's strategic direction, management of the senior teams, being the public face, talking to the media, giving a presentation at industry events or attending film festivals.
How many movies do you watch?
I can get a little bit grumpy if I go for more than a day without seeing a movie. My peak year for movie viewing was 1990. I watched over 1,100 films.
What's in IMDb.com's future?
The growth in mobile is a big deal. We've had over 40 million downloads of the mobile app and the more devices people use to connect to the internet, that's more opportunities for us to provide content.