University’s starring role for Bristol film buff who launched world’s biggest movie website

The Bristol-based founder of IMDb – the world’s number one movie website – has been honoured by the University of Bristol for his achievements.

Movie buff Col Needham, pictured, launched IMDb (Internet Movie Database) in 1990 as a hobby while working as a software engineer at Hewlett Packard in Bristol. 

Her then started collaborating with other likeminded film fans to develop the site. Now owned by Amazon, and widely regarded as one of the internet’s big success stories, it is used by 250m people every month.

Col’s unprecedented success was recognised with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the university, presented at a graduation ceremony in the Wills Memorial Building.

Graduating students heard how Col’s love of technology stretched back to childhood when he received and built his first computer for Christmas in 1979 at the age of 12.

The build-it-yourself Science of Cambridge MK14 kit only had 128 bytes of memory, which wouldn’t be enough to send a tweet nowadays.

He began his database just two years later in 1981, by which time he had a computer with 48 kilobytes of memory and an audio cassette interface to write data to.

When it was officially launched in 1990, users had to dial-up and download the database software onto their computers. It grew in popularity as the internet evolved, before Amazon saw the potential and bought it in 1998.

The database now contains more than 4m movies, TV and entertainment programmes and more than 8m cast and crew members. IMDb has offices around the world, including in Bristol where Col is based as the company’s CEO.

University of Bristol Reader in Screen Media Prof Angela Piccini praised Col during the degree ceremony.

She said: “Col envisioned a future in which we could visualise the global filmmaking industry. Before Facebook and before MySpace and Friends Reunited, Col created the cinematic social network.

“He still wants to turn all of us into film fans. For him, IMDb is an extension of the old Reithian public service broadcasting mission to inform, educate and entertain.

“Col believes that IMDb democratises filmmaking, by bringing audience decision-making and knowledge together with that of the filmmakers. Col’s vision is that the wisdom of the crowd will drive future filmmaking.”


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