With apologies to William Shakespeare and Hamlet, does the influence of corporate profit incentives have a corrupting influence on movie recommender websites? Movie Ratings have become big business. Amazon bought IMDB in 1998 to promote Amazon products. There appears to be a synergy between the two that doesn’t seem to impact IMDB’s rating system. On the other hand, the Netflix business model, which began as DVD mail order business, today is a very different business. Netflix has become heavily invested in original entertainment content for its online streaming business and is using a recommender algorithm for that business that is different than its gold-standard algorithm used for the DVD business. Does the Netflix algorithm for its online streaming business better serve the interest of Netflix subscribers or Netflix profits? I’m sure Netflix would say that it serves both. I’m not so sure. This will be a topic of interest for me in future posts. The more immediate concern is Rotten Tomatoes.
It was announced on Feb. 17, 2016 that Rotten Tomatoes, along with the movie discovery site Flixster, was sold to Fandango. For those of you who are not familiar with Fandango, it is one of two major online advance movie ticket sales sites. MovieTickets.com is the other site. For a premium added to your ticket price, Fandango allows you to print movie tickets at home to allow the moviegoer to avoid big lines at the theater.
So, why should we be concerned? Let’s start with the perception that Rotten Tomatoes has become so influential that it makes or breaks movies before they are even released. Here are a couple of articles that express the growing concern film-makers have with Rotten Tomatoes scores: Rotten Tomatoes: One Filmmaker’s Critical Conundrum and Summer Box Office: How Movie Tracking Went Off the Rails. Whether it is true or not, the movie industry believes that the box office success or failure of a film is in the hands of 200 or so critics and the website that aggregates the results, Rotten Tomatoes.
This impact that Rotten Tomatoes has on the box office each week may be a driving force behind Fandango’s acquisition. In CNN Money’s article announcing the purchase, Fandango President Paul Yanover states “Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes are invaluable resources for movie fans, and we look forward to growing these successful properties, driving more theatrical ticketing and super-serving consumers with all their movie needs,”. Fandango makes money when more people go to the movies, particularly on opening weekends for well-reviewed movies, when lines are expected to be long. Rotten Tomatoes’ Certified Fresh designations drive opening weekend long lines. Logically, Fandango business interests would be better served by even more movies earning the Certified Fresh rating.
Am I being too cynical? Well, according to a study by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site Fandango has done this before. According to FiveThirtyEight Fandango used some creative rounding to inflate their movie ratings in the past. Has Fandango learned its lesson? They claim that Rotten Tomatoes will maintain their independence within their corporate structure. Maybe, but from my experience, corporate acquisitions are made to create profitable synergies – more Certified Fresh ratings, more moviegoers, more long lines for tickets, more “theatrical ticketing” in advance, more profits.
If you begin to “really like” fewer movies that are Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes you might conclude that there may be something Rotten (Tomatoes) in Fandango…if not in Denmark.