By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 4, 2010 at 7:36AM
Well, somebody is betting on the future of movie criticism.
In a major shift in the online movie space, Flixster is acquiring critics site Rotten Tomatoes from IGN Entertainment, a division of News Corp, which will receive a minority stake in an all-stock deal. Flixster has swiftly built the largest online movie community on the web, focused on user-generated content and social media, while Rotten Tomatoes dominates critical aggregation.
The combo of the two movie sites, which fall behind top-ranked IMDb, Yahoo Movies and AOL Moviefone, turns Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes into a much bigger colossus with a global movie audience of an estimated 30 million monthly visitors worldwide. For the last year, Flixster had already partnered with Rotten Tomatoes. The new combine will reach readers across multiple platforms on the Internet (through web-based social networks) and via mobile apps for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android devices. Together, Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes combine half a million reviews from leading critics (complete with Tomatometer scores) with 2.3 billion user ratings and reviews (and their respective Tomatometer and Flixster scores) plus a database of more than 250,000 movies, 20,000 trailers and videos, and local movie showtime information, theater maps, and online ticketing. Both Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes will continue to be individually accessible to users.
Wopular CEO Senh Duong, one of the co-founders of Rotten Tomatoes, thinks the deal "is a great fit" because Rotten Tomatoes brings premium ad dollars. Rotten Tomatoes was growing its own social community, but Flixster, with 20 million unique users a month, is much bigger. "Flixster gets a lot of page views, but user generated content isn't worth as much as a content site like RT," explains Duong, "which has fewer page views than Flixster, but they sell for a lot more."
Joe Greenstein, founder and CEO of Flixster, started talking with IGN, Fox and Flixster investors about partnership possiblities; this deal is the result. "The vision is clear: Rotten Tomatoes is the leading brand for critical consensus and reviews while Flixter leads user reviews," he said. "We want to bring them together to bring users to a single place to get the inside scoop on what's trending. We want to merge two great players to create an independent company that has a chance of being the number one or two in the category."
Both companies have been growing; Rotten Tomatoes was initially acquired by IGN as part of its growth plan to add music, movies and TV to their male-oriented game focus. Then Fox purchased IGN, and relatively small Rotten Tomatoes never seemed to gain their full attention. "It was not a perfect fit," admits Greenstein.
Roy Bahat, president of IGN Entertainment, who will join Flixster’s board of directors as an observer, says that this deal enables IGN "to focus on serving the male 18-to-34 audience – especially videogamers – and the advertisers looking to reach them.”
Clearly, Greenstein believes in the power of film criticism. "People are looking online to make decisions more than ever," he said, "on the web, on phones, on social networks. I don't think people make decisions on a single point of data, they rely on multiple data like friend ratings and reviews. On Flixster people have a single page where they can get all their information in one place, get a real pictures to make decisions about what to see. I don't think critics are going away. Users know how to put together different pieces of information: that's the power of this combination."