We often talk about traditional media in this blog – radio, TV, and even newspapers. But another traditional medium – the movie business – is in the crossfire today as they call it a wrap on one of the worst summers in motion picture history.
There’s been one stiff after another. And while Americans used to flock to theaters in the summer months, many are content to be out and about or hole up in their media rooms watching Netflix, Hulu, and other on-demand programming.
How bad was it?
The New York Times reports it was the worst summer in two decades, down 15% from last year. There are many possible explanations for this cinema nadir.
Bad movies, too many lame sequels, the incursion of video streaming platforms like Netflix, and even bad marketing are all part of the story.
Yet, many industry insiders are blaming the review website, Rotten Tomatoes, as the culprit that explains the summer’s decline. That same Times story by Brooks Barnes is a comprehensive, well-detailed analysis of the issues on both sides of the movie aisle about whether bad reviews are, in fact, the driver that has hurt the film industry the most.
Producers are incensed by the site, claiming it oversimplifies ratings and has an outsized influence on movie attendance. Clearly, review sites of all kinds have become more influential, and Rotten Tomatoes – in particular – has grown by leaps and bounds just in the past year.
But those behind Rotten Tomatoes point to stringent site requirements that vet online critics. The Times quotes company executive Paul Yanover who accepts the power of both good and bad reviews but notes that pinning the blame on the site is just making excuses:
“I don’t think Rotten Tomatoes can definitively make or break a movie in either direction. Anyone who says otherwise is cherry-picking examples to create a hypothesis.”
If this story has a ring of familiarity to it, it may be because of the way that radio station managers and programmers have been irked by Arbitron and then Nielsen – often blamed for ratings woes.
And as we know, ratings are “estimates” and they are far from perfect. It’s not hard to discredit any rating book – the oddities, the inconsistencies, and the ambiguities. I know, because as Research Director for WRIF and then ABC’s Owned FM Stations, part of my job was to uncover ratings anomalies and the oddities – whenever we had a down book.
More often than not, however, stations that perennially struggle in the ratings have larger problems – often unpinned from ratings methodology and sampling issues. Maybe they’re in the wrong lane, perhaps it’s execution issues, or it could be a signal deficit. And like the movie industry, the really appealing films – whether popcorn movies or independent releases – almost always find a way to attain success. The same tends to be true for radio.
That said, the irony in radio ratings is that Nielsen is the box office – the score card that can make or break a station, a format, or both. And unlike Rotten Tomatoes which accepts only peripheral responsibility for epic fails like “The Mummy,” Nielsen actually helps stations identify where their own methodology or meter placement has gotten awry. Sadly, that happens with regularity in market after market.
This is where outside research studies can be an important piece of the puzzle. Rating books only provide surface data – who is listening and when. In-depth research studies provide the “why’s” behind listening. They can tell you everything from top-of-mind-awareness to perceptual ownership of “hills.” And while they cannot solve all problems, they are typically illuminating and helpful when in the hands of a smart, strategic team.
If the movie industry’s “smoking gun” theory is correct – that Rotten Tomatoes is the catalyst behind its bad box office numbers – it would be simple to improve in a simple study of consumers and their movie consumption habits. Something tells me “Baywatch” would have sucked in a perceptual research study.
And two final thoughts…
Ironically, Rotten Tomatoes – which started as a student-run site at UC Berkeley – is now owned by Fandango, a company that’s in the business of selling movie tickets online and is a unit of NBC Universal, owners of Universal Pictures. Warner Brothers has a stake in Rotten Tomatoes, too.
And shouldn’t those of us in radio be happy there’s not a consumer/critics review site for our stations? There would be no shortage of “kersplats” as listeners would hurl virtual tomatoes at stations and DJs they feel aren’t worthy.
So, good luck in the fall book. You have a better chance of winning than “The Emoji Movie” with a “Rotten Tomatoes score of just 7%. Even animated poop emojis couldn’t save this film from being the biggest loser of the summer.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.