The Internet Movie Database (abbreviated IMDb) is an online database of information related to films, television programs and video games, including cast, production crew, fictional characters, biographies, plot summaries, trivia and reviews. Actors and crew can post their own résumé and upload photos of themselves for a yearly fee. U.S. users can view over 6,000 movies and television shows from CBS, Sony, and various independent filmmakers.
Launched in 1990 by professional computer programmer Col Needham, the company was incorporated in the UK as Internet Movie Database Ltd in 1996 with revenue generated through advertising, licensing and partnerships. In 1998 it became a subsidiary of Amazon.com, who were then able to use it as an advertising resource for selling DVDs and videotapes.
As of September 2016, IMDb has approximately 3.9 million titles (including episodes) and 7.4 million personalities in its database, as well as 67 million registered users. It is ranked 58 in Alexa Top Global sites ranking.
The site enables registered users to submit new material and request edits to existing entries. Although all data is checked before going live, the system has been open to abuse and occasional errors are acknowledged. Users are also invited to rate any film on a scale of 1 to 10, and the totals are converted into a weighted mean-rating that is displayed beside each title, with online filters employed to deter ballot-stuffing. The site also features message boards which stimulate regular debates among authenticated users.
History before website
IMDb originated with a Usenet posting by British film fan and professional computer programmer Col Needham entitled “Those Eyes”, about actresses with beautiful eyes. Others with similar interests soon responded with additions or different lists of their own. Needham subsequently started a (male) “Actors List”, while Dave Knight began a “Directors List”, and Andy Krieg took over “THE LIST” from Hank Driskill, which would later be renamed the “Actress List”. Both lists had been restricted to people who were alive and working, but soon retired people were added, so Needham started what was then (but did not remain) a separate “Dead Actors/Actresses List”. The goal of the participants now was to make the lists as inclusive as possible.
By late 1990, the lists included almost 10,000 movies and television series correlated with actors and actresses appearing therein. On October 17, 1990, Needham developed and posted a collection of Unix shell scripts which could be used to search the four lists, and thus the database that would become the IMDb was born. At the time, it was known as the “rec.arts.movies movie database”, but by 1993 had been moved out of the Usenet group as an independent website underwritten and controlled by Needham and personal followers. Other website users were invited to contribute data which they may have collected and verified, on a volunteer basis, which greatly increased the amount and types of data to be stored. Entire new sections were added.
As the site grew huge, full production crews, uncredited performers and other demographic data were added. Needham’s group allowed some advertising to support ongoing operations of the site, including the hiring of full-time paid data managers. All the primary staff came (and still come) from the burgeoning computer industry and/or training schools and did not have extensive expertise in visual media. In 1998, unable to secure sufficient funding from limited advertising, contributions and unable to raise support from the visual media industries or academia, Needham sold the IMDb site to Amazon.com, on condition that its operation would remain in the hands of Needham and his small cadre of managers, who soon were able to move into full-time paid staff positions.
On the web
The database had been expanded to include additional categories of filmmakers and other demographic material, as well as trivia, biographies, and plot summaries. The movie ratings had been properly integrated with the list data and a centralized email interface for querying the database had been created by Alan Jay. Later in 1993 it moved onto the World Wide Web (a network in its infancy at that time) under the name of Cardiff Internet Movie Database. The database resided on the servers of the computer science department of Cardiff University in Wales. Rob Hartill was the original web interface author. In 1994 the email interface was revised to accept the submission of all information meaning that people no longer had to email the specific list maintainer with their updates. However, the structure remained that information received on a single film was divided among multiple section managers, the sections being defined and determined by categories of film personnel and the individual filmographies contained therein. Over the next few years, the database was run on a network of mirrors across the world with donated bandwidth.
On October 17, 2010, IMDb launched original video (www.imdb.com/20) in celebration of its 20th anniversary.
As an independent company
In 1996 IMDb was incorporated in the United Kingdom, becoming the Internet Movie Database Ltd. Founder Col Needham became the primary owner as well as the figurehead. General revenue for site operations was generated through advertising, licensing and partnerships.
As Amazon.com subsidiary (1998-present)
In 1998, Jeff Bezos, founder, owner and CEO of Amazon.com, struck a deal with Col Needham and other principal shareholders to buy IMDb outright and attach it to Amazon as a subsidiary, private company. This gave IMDb the ability to pay the shareholders salaries for their work, while Amazon.com would be able to use IMDb as an advertising resource for selling DVDs and videotapes.
IMDb continued to expand its functionality. On January 15, 2002, it added a subscription service known as IMDbPro, aimed at entertainment professionals. IMDbPro was announced and launched at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. It provides a variety of services including film production and box office details, as well as a company directory.
As an additional incentive for users, as of 2003, users identified as one of “the top 100 contributors” of hard data received complimentary free access to IMDbPro for the following calendar year; for 2006 this was increased to the top 150 contributors, and for 2010 to the top 250. In 2008 IMDb launched their first official foreign language version with the German IMDb.de. Also in 2008, IMDb acquired two other companies, Withoutabox and Box Office Mojo.