IMDB Wants to Challenge Twitter on Social TV Front

X-Ray app promises to enhance viewing experience—just not on iPad yet

Amazon's been making a much bigger push into advertising and original entertainment. But the company has long had a major integral presence in the space, albeit a quiet one. That is, if you consider 160 million uniques quiet.

That's how big and integral is to the Web experience. And Amazon sees an even bigger opening, as more and more Americans can't watch TV or movies unless their smartphones or tablets are in hand, ready to assist in figuring out what else that Law and Order judge has been in.

IMDB founder Col Needham talked to Adweek about X-Ray, the company's second-screen app, and MDB's rich data supply and ad potential.

IMDB has been around forever. Has the explosion of mobile traffic been good for the brand?

We only started selling ads 17 years ago with our first banner in 1996. Now we have 160 million unique users per month, including very high rankings in any country. And mobile is growing at an amazing rate. Our app is only three years old and we have 50 million downloads. More than than 50 percent of our page views are mobile, though we’re still seeing growth on the website. It's still really early days in mobile.

There have been a ton of attempts to create stand-alone apps or services that "own" social TV. But Twitter seems dominant. Where do you guys fit?

We are very, very excited about X-ray for Movies, which is pre-installed on all new Kindle Fires. The way it works is, you see an actor, tap the screen [on your Kindle] and you get a headshot of everybody in that current scene, and up pops their IMDB bio and their list of films to watch. We’re fortunate that we already are [in the social TV conversation]. It's one of those frequent things … we answer the "who’s in it?" question. They were already on the website or app for that and X-ray makes it one step easier.

Kindle Fire is great, but you must want to get on the iPad.

We are already on Wii U. As times evolve, we’ll look at other devices. The overall mission is to be wherever people want us to be and give them more.

IMDB is still primarily seen as a reference tool. What’s your position on original content?

We're about gathering and organizing entertainment information. A few years ago, we started a product called IMDB NewsDesk. And we partner with other providers and deliver a feed of the latest [entertainment] articles. The twist is, we have some sophisticated software that helps tell our partners, "this article is about Jennifer Lawrence," and then we can link them into IMDB experience. And yes, absolutely, we're trying to get past reference tools. And that shows in our usage patterns. One particular popular feature is our IMDB Watchlist. And now, with our second-screen experience, we want to become connected to the viewing experience of movie or show.

Is there an ad opportunity for TV-synched app usage? Can you guys tell what ad people are watching?

Well, we don’t need to be listening for commercials. But I think I could see some opportunities. 

What’s the overall story with advertising on

Our ad base has definitely expanded over the years. It started with endemic advertisers. Distributors, TV networks, etc. Now, it's consumer electronics, autos, packaged goods. We just had the Tribeca Film Festival sponsored by Chanel.

You must have a ton of data that can be used for targeting.

We have a popularity ranking tool which pulls from our 150 million users and ranks all the actors, actresses by visits and page views. That is a huge amount of data. We can plot their popularity over time. It's become a really useful tool for casting. The story we've heard is that the producers of the Twilight movies were trying to cast Edward and saw the amount of search traffic for Robert Pattinson. And then we have MovieMeter, our equivalent tool for movies, which has 130 million data points.

What about video?

Video is all over the IMDB experience. Trailers, cast interviews clips. But I see IMDB as a guide … not the creator. We’ve dabbled with that kind of thing. We shoot our own interviews with stars.

What about cataloging the world of Web video? Do you want to become the IMDB of Web video as all these new shows and YouTube stars emerge?

We already do. We want to cover whatever our users want to be into, whether that's Web series or one-off popular videos. We do have a team of expert editors. But our stuff is contributed largely by our users. … We have people who love Web series. And more often these days, the actually content producers send their data in. We have more than 2 million titles, and in 2012 we added more than 300,000. We get nearly a thousand a day. That gives you some idea of the scale we’re talking about.

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