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Rotten Tomatoes Revamps Movie Audience Scores to Focus on Verified Ticket Buyers

Rotten Tomatoes is dramatically changing its Audience Score methodology for movies: The site’s standard user rating will now reflect only moviegoers who can prove they’ve bought a ticket to see it in a theater.

It’s another troll-fighting move by Rotten Tomatoes, designed to curb coordinated “review bombs” aimed at pushing down the Audience Score for films that certain bad-faith actors dislike. In February, the site disabled user comments prior to a movie’s release and changed the “Want to See” rating from a percentage score (which had been subject to tampering by trolls) to show the raw number of Rotten Tomato moviegoers who said they intend to see the movie.

But it’s also a way for Fandango, which owns Rotten Tomatoes, to drive more ticket sales — initially, the only way users can have their ratings count toward the Audience Score will be through a Fandango purchase.

Fandango insists that boosting ticket purchases was not the primary driver of the Audience Score change, noting that it has deals with AMC Theatres, Regal and Cinemark Theatres to participate in the program to let their customers verify their ticket purchases on Rotten Tomatoes sometime later this year.

Asked if the change to Rotten Tomatoes’ Audience Score system was really about selling more tickets through Fandango, chief marketing officer Lori Pantel responded, “Absolutely not. We’re open to any partner that wants to come on board.” She said decision for the change came out of research the company conducted over the last year showing that Rotten Tomatoes users “want more transparency.”

As for why Fandango is making the change to Rotten Tomatoes movie Audience Scores now — instead of waiting until more exhibitor partners are integrated — Pantel said, “It’s about scale and expediency as we kick off the summer season of movies.”

Rotten Tomatoes’ change also means the primary movie Audience Score ratings will be computed only from authenticated ticket-buyers in the U.S., at least out of the gate.

Fandango says it’s the latest step to “modernize” Rotten Tomatoes, ever since NBCUniversal’s Fandango acquired the reviews-aggregation site in 2016 from Warner Bros., which retains a 25% stake in Rotten Tomatoes.

Over the span of Rotten Tomatoes’ two-decade history it has mainly focused on Tomatometer, its aggregated score of critic ratings. Fandango now sees the opportunity to “increase confidence in the Audience Score,” said Greg Ferris, the company’s VP of product.

“We think this provides more information, more transparency and more consumer confidence around the score itself,” Ferris said, adding, “The byproduct of dissuading bad actors from influencing fan sentiment is certainly part of this.”

Movies opening Friday, May 24, that are subject to Rotten Tomatoes’ new Audience Rating system include Disney’s live-action “Aladdin,” Olivia Wilde-directed comedy “Booksmart” and Sony Pictures Entertainment’s superhero thriller “Brightburn.” All new releases going forward will be subject to the same requirement that users confirm a ticket purchase before their ratings count toward the displayed Audience Score; Fandango said viewer scores for previous movies won’t change.

Even with the change, Rotten Tomatoes will continue to allow all visitors to rate and review movies regardless of whether or not they are confirmed ticket purchasers. In addition, users will have an option to see the “all audience” score for a given movie, which incorporates all user ratings (the way Rotten Tomatoes has previously displayed the Audience Score). User-submitted reviews — both verified and unverified — will still be listed on the site, with those that are verified marked with a “verified” badge.

The way Rotten Tomatoes calculates the Audience Score using ratings from verified ticket buyers will be the same: The score is the percentage of all users who have given it a star rating of 3.5 or higher (out of five stars).

Rotten Tomatoes’ Audience Scores for TV shows will remain unchanged, for now, so they’ll continue to incorporate all ratings from the site’s registered users.

With the Tomatometer system, Fandango has responded to criticism that Rotten Tomatoes needed to widen the pool of movie and TV reviewers used for the scores. Last August, Rotten Tomatoes added 200 new critics after expanding the criteria for inclusion, particularly to reflect women and underrepresented voices, and has since added more than 500 new Tomatometer-approved critics and publications. In all, Rotten Tomatoes tracks about 4,500 critics.

Meanwhile, in another change, Fandango said Rotten Tomatoes will begin powering the fan rating system on Fandango site and mobile apps, replacing the movie-ticketing service’s previous five-star fan rating. Once their ticket purchases are confirmed through their Fandango user account, Fandango ticket buyers’ ratings and reviews will now count toward the Verified Audience Score displayed on Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes, as well as on other platforms that syndicate Rotten Tomatoes scores.

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