IMDB: It's (not) Only A Movie


The online newsletter PaidContent.org is reporting that the Internet Movie Database (IMDB ) is getting close to launching a video downloading service – think iTunes for movies. Once again, I find myself in awe of this trend-setting data publisher, which we awarded a Model of Excellence in 2004.

IMDB traces its history back to the earliest days of the Web, when it was founded as a non-profit volunteer effort to build an incredibly rich database of every movie ever made. User-contributed data may be a hot topic these days, but IMDB pioneered this way back in 1993. Wikis and blogs may be all the rage currently, but IMDB had elements of both as far back as 1995. Online community? Check out the passionate film fanatics posting away in IMDB forums. Ratings? They've had them for years already. You get the idea. This is innovation central.

IMDB was acquired by Amazon.com in 1998. There was a lot of tension surrounding this acquisition among the thousands of people who had contributed entries to the database and even made cash donations to support its operations.

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Amazon.com did nothing with IMDB for several years other than pumping resources into it to significantly expand the coverage and depth of the database. So little seemed to change for so long (even links between IMDB and Amazon.com, which sells movies weren’t introduced for quite some time), that I eventually concluded IMDB was nothing more than Jeff Bezos indulging his personal interests. Wrong. In a great case study for other companies, Amazon.com was taking the time to prove to disaffected volunteers and users that the site was getting significantly better under its ownership. Complaints melted away and site traffic remained strong.

Current state of play? Users viewing a movie profile on the site can now buy the movie from Amazon. Given IMDB's huge traffic, that alone is a big business victory for Amazon.com. Recently, IMDB rolled out a subscription-based "pro" version of its database, aimed at movie industry professionals. And now, it seems, an iTunes for video.

I like IMDB not just for its creativity, but for its business model as well. Most of the site remains free, drawing massive traffic that can be monetized through advertising. The "pro" product gives it a subscription revenue stream. And most interesting of all, the database is also being utilized as a retailing platform. Something for everyone, and everyone goes away satisfied and happy. How many business models can make that claim?

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