Col Needham recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of IMDb’s acquisition by Amazon and his 25th Amazon anniversary, making him among the 30 longest-tenured Amazon employees and the longest-tenured CEO and founder at Amazon across all companies acquired by Amazon. A lifelong movie buff, Needham drew upon his love of film and technology to create what is now the world's most popular and authoritative source for information on movies, TV shows, and celebrities. We caught up with him to learn more.
Here’s what he had to say about the origins of his company, his passion for movies, and what it means to be an Amazon employee.
The origin of IMDb
I am fortunate to have been born at the right time for two big revolutions: home computing and home video. I’ve loved film since an early age, and in the early '80s I was watching so many films on VHS that I started to lose track of what I had seen. I bought a paper diary and started writing down the titles as I watched them. I soon expanded this into a database of titles and major credits on my home computer. It was just for my own use—so I could run reports like “How many Alfred Hitchcock films have I seen?” By 1988 I was in a film discussion group on the internet, where I met some like-minded collectors of entertainment information. One thing led to another, we pooled our data, and I wrote and published the first version of the IMDb software on October 17, 1990.
I have been in love with film for my entire life. My earliest memory is going to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when I was five, and since then, all I wanted to do was see more and more films. Luckily my wife of 33 years is always happy to watch with me, whether at a film festival, the local cinema, or our in-home theater. Film continues to be my primary source of both entertainment and inspiration. As Davis (played by Steve Martin) says in Grand Canyon: “All of life's riddles are answered in the movies.”
Thanks to my IMDb ratings list, I can tell you precisely how many films I have seen. As of May 3, 2023, I have watched 14,845 unique films. The number does not include second and subsequent viewings—so the 50+ times I’ve seen my all-time favorite film, Vertigo, only count as one film. It’s tough to pick only a few to highlight here, but my top films of 2022 are available in this IMDb list.
How IMDb became part of Amazon
In December 1997, I received an email from Amazon’s then-general counsel, saying, “Hi Col, Jeff Bezos and I were discussing film websites the other day and naturally, IMDb came up in the conversation. We’re going to be in the UK next month and we’d love to meet with you.” Amazon had just started advertising on IMDb, and I hoped the meeting was to discuss extending the contract. At the time, Amazon only sold books and had never acquired another company. During the meeting, I learned that Jeff actually had a much bigger idea for us to discuss—and that was Amazon acquiring IMDb. After the deal officially closed on April 24, 1998, IMDb and two other companies were announced as Amazon's first acquisitions.
Jeff said in the press release announcing the acquisition that he hoped IMDb would “support [Amazon’s] eventual entry into online video sales.” Today, the results of the Amazon/IMDb relationship have far exceeded this initial vision. IMDb is the No. 1 movie website in the world, with more than 200 million monthly visitors. Our iOS and Android apps have been downloaded hundreds of millions of times, and our social media channels are followed by more than 15 million highly engaged fans. IMDb helps customers all over the world discover and decide what to watch, advance their professional careers (with our IMDbPro service), share their passions, grow their businesses, and so much more. We receive nearly 1 million data contributions per week and our database currently includes more than 14 million titles, 12.4 million professionals, and over 1 billion user ratings. Our data helps power essential Amazon businesses and experiences, including Fire TV, Prime Video, X-Ray, and Alexa. Leading companies all over the world, including TikTok and Universal Pictures, license our data, further extending the reach and impact of our data.
Every day is genuinely an adventure here. I still run a monthly session for all new IMDb team members and I am always fond of telling people there: “You have joined us at a very exciting time.” I truly mean this, as we continually benefit from new technologies and new devices which create even more ways to reach customers with better experiences and more content. It is still Day 1 after over 9,000 days here.
What it means to be an Amazon employee
It is so good to be part of such a fabulous team at IMDb, which, in turn, is part of such an impactful and history-making team at Amazon. The people, our customer focus, and the customers themselves all make being an Amazon employee meaningful. I love it when I bump into someone outside of work and they spot my IMDb lapel pin and ask me if I work for IMDb. When I tell them that I do, I often hear back stories of how IMDb helped them discover a new favorite film or show, or how we have fueled their passion for entertainment.
We create innovative products, services, and experiences that engage and delight fans, professionals, and advertisers every day, all over the world. One big focus area for us is making it easy and fun for entertainment fans to discover and decide what to watch. By leveraging our database and passionate fan community to create tools that offer customers personalized viewing suggestions, IMDb helps fans spend less time searching and more time watching.
Twenty-five years into my career at Amazon, Customer Obsession continues to be one of my most personally meaningful Leadership Principles. I like to stay deeply connected to our customers, whether by chatting with other film lovers or reading discussions on our customer-facing community support platform. Customers can post questions, problems, or ideas, and people can vote on the idea or add their own twist. It is an endlessly insightful source of feedback from our most engaged customers and it helps prioritize and shape what we build next.