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IMDb's vision: Offer streaming for every title

At the SXSW Film Festival, founder Col Needham talks about wanting to someday provide instant access to the more than 1.3 million titles that the site indexes.

AUSTIN, Texas--IMDb founder Col Needham said the massively popular movie database has set as its major goal for the future to add one-button streaming for all of the 1.3 million titles it indexes.

Obviously, the vision is a long-term one, Needham acknowledged, and it faces hurdles from the slew of content owners who control the vast library of titles the Internet Movie Database provides information about, but as a leading movie-oriented site, it's a very important goal to articulate in public.

Needham was speaking Monday afternoon at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival here. Oddly, though his talk was part of the film festival, the room was packed almost entirely by attendees of the associated SXSW Interactive Festival.

Speaking at SXSW on Monday, IMDb founder Col Needham said the site hopes to eventually offer streaming at the push of a button for all of the 1.3 million titles in its database. Clearly, this vision will take some time to come to fruition. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Ostensibly, Needham was talking about the history of IMDb--from its founding even before the advent of the World Wide Web, to its launch as a dot-com site to its being bought by But late in the talk, he explained how he wants to make it possible for the 57 million monthly unique visitors to the site to watch, with the click of one button, all the movies, TV shows, and other video content indexed on the site.

It will be difficult to fulfill the vision, Needham said, "because many of the films may not exist anymore and many may not be available for streaming."

But these days, free or paid streaming of movies is available from a number of sources, including: Netflix, Hulu, (a part of CBS Interactive, which publishes CNET News), Amazon, iTunes, and others. Each of those sources, though, has its own arrangement with the content owners, so for IMDb to get access to the entire library would be a massive undertaking.

Still, rather than being a throw-away line that didn't carry any weight, Needham reiterated at the end of the talk that the vision was one of the company's major goals for 2009 and beyond.

Already, IMDb has begun adding streaming content to the site, a program that began in September. Right now, Needham said, there are 14,000 full-length TV episodes and a couple of thousand full-length movies available on the site, as well as 120,000 other pieces of video content, many of which are movie trailers, interviews, and featurettes.

And he said that the site is adding thousands of new pieces of video content per week.

At that rate, however, it's sure to take the site quite some time to achieve the goal. Needham said he imagined a time three years from now when we will all look back at early 2009, when so many media sites are trying to solve the problem of making content available to those who want it in the face of resistance from the Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association of America, and we'll shake our heads at where we were at.

"We'll laugh at how little we knew about what business models would work," Needham said.