This week, Segment.io co-founder Peter Reinhardt blogged about building The Reel Box, a mash-up site launched in March which displays local movie showtimes from Fandango alongside Rotten Tomatoes ratings, YouTube trailer videos, and Google Maps to each theatre. At first glance, it looks insanely useful--so why is it more likely to receive a cease-and-desist letter than a VC offer?
As Reinhardt explains on his blog, "movie showtime data is difficult to get and the APIs cost a lot of money to use." He just wanted to experiment with data and make a quick demo, so he used Yahoo! Query Language (YQL) to parse web content from Fandango into his own custom API. Cloud service Firebase provided an "API Caching Layer" to get around YQL's daily query limits. After a little reverse engineering of Fandango's ticket purchasing URLs (documented in Reinhardt's blog post), The Reel Box was up and running.
But for how long? A similar service in 2009 was threatened with legal action and hefty fines, and the Ignyte Movies and Showtimes API listed on ProgrammableWeb is no longer available. Another developer posted a cautionary tale in Y Combinator's Hacker News in response to The Reel Box's announcement, concluding with this resolution:
The final result was us just paying to use the API's... We figured we could just pay X per API call for showtimes at theaters in Y zip codes. Nope. Their packages seemingly had no concept of modern web services and instead were structured based on strange market blocks each with a daily minimum of requests that had to be made and so on... (these concepts of software as a service were foreign to them).
Right now, The Reel Box and similar sites exist in a gray area: they're possible--sometimes even easy--to build, but may run afoul of laws that haven't evolved to keep up with changing technologies. That certainly won't discourage developers who are always looking for a better way to do things, and we can all look forward to a day when more data is shared instead of hoarded.