What the Success of Rotten Tomatoes Says About the Power of Content

Rotten Tomatoes has been aggregating professional movie and TV reviews since 1998—and even though it has just 36 employees, it’s gotten the attention of the entertainment industry’s biggest players.

So says the New York Times, which recently quoted one studio executive as saying it’s his mission to destroy Rotten Tomatoes.

How is it that one website can have such an impact on a $2 trillion global industry?

While the site is owned by Fandango—itself a part of NBCUniversal—Rotten Tomatoes is relevant because of the size of its audience. Just in the past year, the NYT notes, its visitor traffic has risen 30 percent.

What’s behind that growth is the content Rotten Tomatoes posts: collections of reviews from across the web.

At a time when there are thousands of movies and shows available to watch at any given time, these meta-reviews are hugely valuable to the consumer.

Rotten Tomatoes’ content is so influential that some studio heads blame it for their movies flopping (which is why that one studio exec would rather see the site disappear).

What content lessons can be learned from the success of Rotten Tomatoes?

Consumers want and need guidance

Rotten Tomatoes is at the convergence of a few massive trends that are reshaping legacy industries like entertainment. One is the power of real people’s opinions to influence buying decisions.

Today’s consumers show a clear preference for authentic content. Olapic, a software company in the user-generated content space, reports that 76% of people trust UGC more than branded content.

At the same time, many brands ignore the potential of UGC. OfferPop, another software firm, found that 85% of consumers—but just 65% of companies—believe visual UGC to be more influential than brand-created images.

Rotten Tomatoes shares professional reviews, not user-generated ones—yet the fact remains that credible opinions are extremely valuable to consumers. People are pressed for time; opinions help them sift through a multitude of options to make an informed choice.

More content is better

At the same time, you may say, movie reviews are nothing new. People have always been able to find them in their local newspaper or alt-weekly. And since the 1980s, reviews from the likes of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel have been syndicated nationwide.

Where Rotten Tomatoes goes a step further is in gathering reviews from across the internet, even from relatively obscure online publications like Screen Junkies.

In addition, because it culls reviews from all over, Rotten Tomatoes can offer guidance on independent movies, as well as big-studio releases. Indie movie reviews may not drive as much site traffic as reviews of blockbusters, but they do help drive long-tail traffic.

And by providing high-value information on all kinds of movies and TV shows, Rotten Tomatoes has become a one-stop shop for both enthusiasts and ordinary consumers.

This illustrates another important lesson: The more content you offer, the more value you add—as long as you give users a means of sorting through it (or, like Rotten Tomatoes, curating it yourself).

Content scales massively

The good news is, this kind of content curation doesn’t require a lot of headcount. As noted, Rotten Tomatoes has only 36 employees—not bad for a business that drives 13 million uniques a month.

Online communities operate in much the same way. By leveraging the crowd to create content—and relying on a few full-time employees to sort and curate it—communities drive massive amounts of traffic with relatively little staff input.

Social networks illustrate this phenomenon too. The vast majority of Facebook posts are created by Facebook users; the same is true of Twitter and even LinkedIn. That’s the primary appeal of social media: the content is genuine.

Your challenge is to deploy a platform that lets you scale the creation of this kind of content. Today’s consumers value authenticity—the kind that Rotten Tomatoes provides. How well are you delivering it?




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Ben Foster

Content Marketer at inSided. Having worked in B2B tech in San Francisco and Boston, Ben's now happy to be in New York City. He'll never root for the Yankees, though. Connect on LinkedIn

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