The place to go to find out, say, the name of the dude who played Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane  in the original Dukes of Hazzard (James Best , duh) has for years involved four letters: IMDB. But the Internet Movie Database, which is owned by Amazon, is about to get some company.
"Companies have become accustomed to dealing with inaccurate credits, out-of-date development lists, and incorrect contact information," says Mark Hoebich. "IMDB is crowdsourced. We get told all the time by frustrated people that even if you know there is a credit or piece of data that's incorrect, it's virtually impossible to get it changed."
Hoebich is the founder of TV Tracker, an entertainment data tracking service that Variety acquired in June . Today, the entertainment magazine adds to its roster of services with the launch of Flix Tracker, a database that aggregates all types of Hollywood data, including production credits and future developments, film budget and location information, and contact information. The subscription-based service is another example of a traditional business (publishing) trying to adapt to the digital age--in this case, repackaging the reporting from its most precious resource, professional journalists, to build a new stream of revenue. "IMDB is a bit like Wikipedia," says Neil Stiles, president of the Variety Group. "We don't think IMDB is our main competition."
Rather than crowdsourcing its system, Hoebich says the company's competitive advantage will be verifying its information, a labor-intensive process that depends on industry sources. Flix Tracker's team includes veterans of studio and network development divisions, who will be able to provide forward-looking information, something Hoebich says competitors such as IMDB Pro and Baseline don't have the resources to do. "Getting this information is very relationship driven," he says. "We have to get on the phone on a daily basis with these companies."
Additionally, Flix Tracker will take advantage of Variety's reporting to fill in gaps and keep the database up to date. "If you think about the competitive set, we know they use Variety's editorial pages to actually compile lots of [data]," Stiles says. Between the Flix Tracker and Variety teams, the service will be kept fresh by a staff of 150 people. "We have the resources to make sure the information that we're listing is accurate," adds Hoebich. "What our competitors are doing is typically waiting for press release, and they're also utilizing our publication. But they are only getting what we choose to print."
Still, both Hoebich and Stiles acknowledge IMDB is good for "lightweight information," such as say, quickly looking up how many Pirates of the Caribbean films Johnny Depp has starred in. "For that, IMDB is fabulous," says Hoebich. (IMDB is also one of the world's most popular websites, with roughly 18 million monthly uniques according to Quantcast.)
But Flix Tracker isn't serving a mass audience--it's going after industry professionals: network and studio execs, writers, actors, managers, and so forth. The company will charge $1,000 per seat for the paid product, though prices will go down if seats are bought in bulk. Typically, Hoebich says, the product is marketed to studios or production companies, which often buy anywhere from 20 to 250 seats. Stiles expects Flix Tracker to become a big part of Variety's revenue stream--a welcome supplement for the industry's declining ad revenue--that could help boost the magazine's circulation and branding. Lionsgate and Jerry Bruckheimer Films are two of the firms that have been beta testing the product.
When asked whether there will be a free version of the service, both Hoebich and Stiles laughed.
"There's nothing free anymore," Hoebich says.
My how things have changed.
[Image: Flickr user Pedrosimoes7 ]