Indie theaters and open data

Movie showtimes are easy to find. Just type something like “movies keene nh” into Google or Bing and they pop right up:

You might assume that this is open data, available for anyone to use. Not so, as web developers interested in such data periodically discover. For example, from MetaFilter:

Q: We initially thought it would be as easy as pulling in an RSS feed from somewhere, but places like Yahoo or Google don’t offer RSS feeds for their showtimes. Doing a little research brought up large firms that provide news and data feeds and that serve up showtimes, but that seems like something that’s designed for high-level sites with national audiences.

So, is there any solution for someone who is just trying to display local showtimes?

A: This is more complicated than you might think. Some theatres maintain that their showtimes are copyrighted, and (try to) control the publication of them. Others have proprietary agreements with favored providers and don’t publish their showtimes elsewhere, to give their media partners a content edge.

What applies to RSS feeds applies to calendar feeds as well. It would be nice to have your local showtimes as an overlay on your personal calendar. But since most theaters don’t make the data openly available, you can’t.

Some indie theaters, however, do serve up the data. Here are some movies that don’t appear when you type “movies keene nh” into Google or Bing:

These are listings from the Putnam Theater at Keene State College. They syndicate to the Elm City hub for the Monadnock region of New Hampshire by way of the college calendar which recently, thanks to Ben Caulfield, added support for standard iCalendar feeds. They appear in the film category of that hub. And in fact they’re all that can appear there.

I’ve decided I’m OK with that. I used to forget about movies at the Putnam because they didn’t show up in standard searches. Now I sync them to my phone and I’m more aware of them. Would I want all the mainstream movies there too? I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure. There are plenty of ways to find what’s playing at mainstream theaters. That doesn’t feel like an awareness problem that needs solving. The indie theaters, though, could use a boost. As I build out Elm City hubs in various cities, I’ve been able to highlight a few with open calendars:

– In Berkeley: UC Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA)

– In Toronto: Bloor Cinema

And here are some indies whose calendars could be open, but aren’t:

– In Portland: Academy Theater

– In Cambridge, The Brattle Theatre

If you’re an indie theater and would like your listings to be able to flow directly to personal calendars, and indirectly through hubs to community portals, check out how the Putman, BAM/PFA, and the Bloor Cinema are doing it.

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