Review aggregation on Rotten Tomatoes is a nifty idea and an imperfect science. The proprietors of the site now think they can do better by bringing in a broader range of voices.
Here‘s how the “Tomatometer” aggregation works, for those who might not know (via Rotten Tomatoes): “The Tomatometer score represents the percentage of professional critic reviews that are positive for a given film or television show. A Tomatometer score is calculated for a movie or TV show after it receives at least five reviews.”
When 60 percent or more of the reviews for a given movie are positive, that movie is marked as “Fresh” (complete with a cute little tomato icon). However, when reviews predominantly skew in a more negative direction, the movie is labeled as “Rotten” (and it gets a green “splat” icon).
It‘s not a flawless system, but this crowdsourced approach to measuring a movie‘s overall quality resonates with an internet that likes to consume information in bite-sized portions. Instead of reading one review, you can take the temperature of a movie based on the general positive/negative sentiments expressed across a whole mess of reviews.
Now, Rotten Tomatoes wants to improve. Paul Yanover, the president of Fandango (which owns Rotten Tomatoes), and Jenny Jediny, the site‘s “critics relations manager” for a chat about what‘s happening on the immediate horizon.
“In the critic world, we started to look at the landscape of media and what is going on in this community of critics … we said, look, Rotten Tomatoes itself is 20 years old, it was created at a time when the internet was steeped in print journalism,” Yanover explained. “Now we’re in a world where there’s a lot more opportunity to expand critic reach — in video, and in audio like podcasts.”
“Now we’re in a world where there’s a lot more opportunity to expand critic reach.”
The precise details are a little sketchy at this point, but broadly speaking, Rotten Tomatoes is loosening its criteria for adding new voices to the aggregation pool. This applies to video reviewers and podcasts, as Yanover explained, but that‘s not all. The site is also going to consider freelance voices.
“Historically, critics were more heavily approved through publications,” Jediny said. “We’re shifting our focus to approve more critics individually to help freelance critics become more visible.”
That doesn‘t mean the site is cutting down on or changing the way it handles full publications. They‘ll still be listed. But when a (presumably at least somewhat influential) freelance critic self-publishes a review, or has one run on a site that isn‘t in the Rotten Tomatoes pool, their thoughts on a movie will still be able to influence the Tomatometer rating.
It‘s ultimately a numbers game. The site‘s methodology for determining Tomatometer ratings isn‘t changing, but more voices in the pool means one outlier review won‘t have as much of an impact.
“The thing we care about is the composition of the reviewers themselves,” Yanover said. “We recognize the world is always in change. We care about the diversity of those voices. We care about it reflecting the viewership.”
If you want to know more, it‘s worth heading over to EW and checking out the full interview. Yanover and Jediny go into much greater detail on these imminent changes, as well as longer-term plans (including tweaks to user ratings and plans to help fund critics‘ trips to major film festivals).