LOS ANGELES — Rotten Tomatoes, the powerful review aggregation service, substantially revised its criteria for critics on Tuesday in an effort to include more female and minority voices and better reflect podcast and YouTube reviewing.
Who qualifies as a critic has long been a touchy subject for the site, which boils down hundreds of reviews to give films and television shows “fresh” or “rotten” scores on its Tomatometer. Some filmmakers complain bitterly that Rotten Tomatoes casts too wide a net already, pulling in reviews from roughly 4,400 critics worldwide, mixing bloggers with more established appraisers.
Rotten Tomatoes has decided, however, that broadening its criteria for critics — more than 200 were added to the site on Tuesday — will make its Tomatometer stronger.
“It will always be a better product if it has more voices,” said Paul Yanover, the president of Fandango, which owns Rotten Tomatoes. “We are still looking for the highest quality criticism.”
Among the 200 new Tomatometer-approved critics are people like Bernard Boo, who writes for sites like Film Threat, PopMatters and Den of Geek; and Luciana Mangas, who reviews television shows for the site Writes of the Roundtable.
Rotten Tomatoes has essentially decided that it has a responsibility to give the critical conversation a hard push in the direction of inclusion. Recent academic studies about diversity in the film criticism field have been damning — echoing the widespread denunciation of film studios for what many see as their systemic marginalization of women and people of color.
About 82 percent of the reviews aggregated by Rotten Tomatoes in 2017 for the 100 highest-grossing movies were written by white critics, according to a report published in June by researchers at the University of Southern California. Roughly 78 percent were written by men. A separate study published in July by researchers at San Diego State University found that male critics were harsher than women on female-led films.
Oscar-winning stars like Brie Larson (“Room”) have also drawn attention to the lack of critic diversity. “I do not need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’” Ms. Larson said in June. “It wasn’t made for him.” Her comments came as she announced that the Sundance and Toronto film festivals had vowed to dedicate 20 percent of press credentials to underrepresented journalists.
To become more inclusive, Rotten Tomatoes has moved away from criteria that emphasize scale. Under the site’s previous standard, for instance, broadcast critics had to be employed for at least two years by a national television or radio outlet. The new broadcast criteria allow for local outlets and eliminate a specific time component for employment.
Gone are requirements for publications based on print circulation.
And online critics will no longer be required to have published a minimum of 100 reviews of at least 300 words in length across two calendar years at a site with at least 500,000 unique monthly visitors. The new standard is simply “consistent output for a minimum of two years.”
For the first time, people who review films exclusively via podcast can apply to become Tomatometer-approved. Podcasts must publish at least four episodes a month to be eligible, among other criteria, although Rotten Tomatoes stipulates that “podcasts reaching underrepresented groups will also be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
Rotten Tomatoes also said it would place more emphasis on freelance critics — a reflection, in part, of the diminished state of local newspapers. “In some ways, we were looking at the media landscape as it existed 20 years ago with the old criteria,” Mr. Yanover said. “The world has obviously changed.”
Rotten Tomatoes was founded in 1998 by students at the University of California, Berkeley, who wanted reviews for kung fu movies in one place. The name harks back to medieval times, when villagers would lob spoiled food at criminals in the stocks — a practice later taken up by unsatisfied audiences to express disapproval of subpar performers.
Fandango, the ticket-selling service owned by NBCUniversal, acquired Rotten Tomatoes two years ago. Since then, the Tomatometer has become more ubiquitous (scores now appear on Fandango’s ticketing platforms, for instance), leading to complaints from film studios about the site’s ability to influence box office results. Mr. Yanover and his team have dismissed that concern as overblown.
But Rotten Tomatoes has also unveiled changes in recent months that seem to fall under the Spider-Man doctrine: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Mr. Yanover said that the site spent a year considering how best to make its criteria for critics more inclusive — an effort that led to the hiring of a full-time “critics relations manager,” Jenny Jediny. Rotten Tomatoes in February hired a new editor, Joel Meares, who has worked to deepen the site’s news articles and feature stories.
In addition to revising its criteria, Rotten Tomatoes announced on Tuesday that it had established a $100,000 grant program to help pay for fledgling critics to attend film festivals.
Rotten Tomatoes will not remove any critics from its roster as part of the criteria changes. “This is about editing in, not editing out,” Mr. Yanover said.
The site’s self-curated list of “top critics” will also remain the same — for now.
“That’s the next thing we are looking at,” Mr. Yanover said.