Database competitors facing off vs. Baseline

Baseline database systems, one of Hollywood’s largest on-line computer information services, is about to face some stiff competition, and the battle for supremacy in this new field is only going to become more intense.

Six months after its founder was ousted, Baseline is facing rivals from the studios’ own in-house services, and next year must confront an even greater threat from a new program at USC’s School of Cinema-Television.

USC Entertainment Technology Center will be announced next month, with its first program being an extensive database that offers studio exex services far greater than Baseline.

The entertainment industry has been slow to develop computer programs that permit easy access to film credits, box office performance and the status of pictures being shot on the lot.

A number of companies, from Baseline to Hollywood Who Done It? and most recently Panalog Computer, are trying to woo producers and studios with easy-to-use programs.

First task

None has done the job completely, say studio executives. As a result, the Entertainment Technology Center’s first task will be to develop software for the studios to make this information readily available.

“We have been very bad as an industry doing this,” said Steve Koltai, senior VP for strategic planning at Warner Bros. “That’s why third-party vendors have come in to do this. To the extent that the industry as a whole is able to pool their experience, it will be cheaper and faster.”

Paramount has let the individual production companies do their own searches.

At Warner Bros., execs can follow their own production slate, and the studio has even gone so far as to begin putting its props on Photo CDs for easy retrieval.

MCA makes progress

MCA’s Motion Picture Group has a program that appears to solve many of the problems.

Begun in 1985, the Feature Credit System permits more than 100 users to search for an individual’s experiences, plus the status of current films in production.

More unusual is the Feature Credit System’s ability to work as a so-called relational database, where keywords connect several categories of information.

For example, rather than looking for crew members by name, a producer can enter the terms Chicago and gaffer, and come up with a list of experienced peoplein that city. The system can even discern if a credit on a film is shared or not.

Filled with well over 200,000 names, FCS was developed for just $ 300,000 in computer time. Reportedly, Universal has since cut the number of its subscriptions to Baseline, from 75 to 25.

Indeed, efforts like these may deal a blow to Baseline.

Since coming on-line in 1988, the New York company has secured 2,500 subscribers, at a $ 197 sign-up fee, and boasts more than 525,000 names. (Daily Variety is a contributing subscriber.)

Baseline offers services similar to Universal’s efforts, said Baseline president Larry Royle, with special searches done by his staff for an additional fee.

“We haven’t seen any noticeable drop in the studios from usage,” said Royle. “If it was a significant drop, they must be getting enough from their in-house databases.”

Accuracy is key

But advocates of in-house systems say third-party products have problems with accuracy.

“It’s important because you have people telling you false information,” said Larry Weier, director of MCA’s Feature Production Information Services.

Whatever the pitfalls of other systems, what happens next year as computers become more prevalent in production offices, depends on how active studios are to develop their own databases. USC’s program could be a glimpse at the solution.