The criteria for judging the merit of a movie run the gamut depending on who you’re talking to. “Good” and “bad” are often viewed as subjective terms that vary from person to person, and often it’s hard to pin any one movie down as one or the other. Enter Rotten Tomatoes, the film rating aggregate that’s quickly become the defining medium for how we classify new releases. It’s a site that’s become so powerful, that many within the industry even claim that it’s “destroyed careful marketing campaigns” for poorly rated movies.
Hollywood soon might be able to breathe a sigh of relief though, following Fandango’s purchase of the Rotten Tomatoes brand. On the surface, this seems like an innocent enough acquisition. Fandango sells movie tickets, Rotten Tomatoes rates those same movies. But all you have to do is dig into the way Fandango has aggregated reviews itself to see that this is less a match made in heaven, and more a death knell. Five Thirty Eight dug into the numbers last October, describing Fandango as possessing “a deeply flawed rating system.”
The investigation outlines a series of issues with Fandango’s star-ratings. First and foremost, the site claims to rate films on a scale of 1-to-5 stars, when in fact virtually every movie they rate falls between 3 and 5 (even Mortdecai, with its 13% Rotten Tomatoes score, was rated at 3.5 stars). All this points to Fandango using positive reviews as a boon for its primary business of selling movie tickets. Additionally, Five Thirty Eight found multiple cases where Fandango inexplicably rounded a movie’s rating up by up to half a star. All this makes the purchase of Rotten Tomatoes that much more unsettling, especially when you realize exactly what’s happening: Fandango is buying up the one service that hurts its business the most.
Fandango certainly isn’t unprecedented in this strategy. In fact, it’s a practice that’s becoming frighteningly common in modern Hollywood. Already we’re hearing rumblings that Time Warner might buy a sizable stake in Hulu so it can eliminate the service’s next-day streaming option. This would serve the dual purpose of taking a major cable subscription competitor off the board, while giving the company almost complete control over that very same competition.
Perhaps we’re simply panicking over nothing, but the film industry’s fear of Rotten Tomatoes’ ability to single-handedly tank a release with a low score tells us otherwise. People are less likely to buy a ticket to a poorly reviewed movie. It’s why there’s no such thing as a bad movie within Fandango’s own rating system: As a ticket vendor, it has a vested interest in making every review positive. With Rotten Tomatoes set to operate under Fandango’s banner, it wouldn’t make sense to keep a decidedly honest rating algorithm as is.
Already, we’re seeing other sites agree that this spells almost certain doom for Rotten Tomatoes’ reputation as the most trusted review aggregate on the web. Fandango is first and foremost a business, and allowing poor reviews to exist on its platform is simply bad for its bottom line. If Five Thirty Eight’s lengthy investigation teaches us anything, it’s that bad reviews equal bad press, and bad press equals less money for sites like Fandango. Buying up Rotten Tomatoes effectively cuts off its biggest barrier to success at the source.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest