This New York startup thinks it's created the Rotten Tomatoes rival that movie studios have been asking for

Love it or hate it, Rotten Tomatoes has completely shifted how movies are marketed.

Over the summer, the review aggregator website proved just how much of an influence it has on general audiences as Sony strategically lifted the review embargo on “The Emoji Movie” so close to when it opened in theatres that its eventual rotten score didn’t completely destroy the movie’s opening weekend box office figures.

And recently, Martin Scorsese wrote a scathing guest column in The Hollywood Reporter about the site, saying that Rotten Tomatoes “set a tone that is hostile to serious filmmakers.”

Rotten Tomatoes has been a thorn in the side of studios and directors for years, as they feel a low score on the site unfairly gives the perception that it’s a bad movie. But Avi and Joshua Stern think they have come up with an app that’s both a personalised online movie recommendation service while also a modern tool studios can use to drill-down how to spend advertising dollars.

Joshua Avi Stern Avi Gill PLUS1Avi Gill/PLUS1MovieGrade founders (L-R) Joshua and Avi Stern.

MovieGrade is an app that gives its users a more personalised selection of movie titles to see compared to others like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb. After answering a few questions about your likes of movies, genres, and actors, you are instantly given movies that the app believes you’d like to see. You can then begin grading and sharing grades with your friends.

It’s been out of Beta for a few months, and in that short time has gained a loyal following by cinephiles, but what the brothers are really focused on currently is grabbing the attention of studio marketing departments, believing their app can offer better personalised data.

“We just kind of got sick and tired of seeing all these rating platforms like Rotten Tomatoes that just gave us average percentages and we thought to ourselves, in this day and age, with technology being so advanced and so fast, how does something not exist that learns my actual tastes and take that into consideration when recommending movies for people to see,” Joshua Stern told Business Insider.

Joshua, who founded two apps before creating MovieGrade, and Avi, a movie producer, teamed with Boris Rabinovich as their CTO to build the algorithm in the app, which also lets you do a filtered search on all the titles available on major streaming services — a rare find on most apps and sites.

The startup has found in a short amount of time in the business that studios are starving for better data on what audiences want. As the general thinking for decades in Hollywood has been to spend millions to blanket the world with marketing on its blockbuster releases, the Sterns are trying to get the marketing heads to understand that, in today’s world, getting the loyal fans leads to a groundswell.

“We’re ready to disrupt the market,” Avi Stern said. “For advertising it’s all personalisation, so why should you market a movie to me that I have no inclination of seeing. Joshua loves Matt Damon, I’m going to market him Matt Damon movies, I’m not going to market him a scary clown movie knowing that he hates horror movies.”

Mother movieParamount‘mother!’

This is not to say that all movie studios and distributors don’t do targeting marketing. They do. But the Sterns believe with MovieGrade they can specialize while also expanding the marketing. In the case of “mother!,” which received an “F” grade through CinemaScore — a company that conducts exit polling of wide releases during opening weekends — MovieGrade can go into its database and instantly target not just people who love “Rosemary’s Baby”-like horrors or Darren Aronofsky movies, but also fans of Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer. 

“Right now studios are kind of just walking in the dark and it’s not a knock on them, it’s because the platforms don’t have any targeting data for users,” said Joshua.

MovieGrade will soon be able to prove itself to the Hollywood big wigs. The Sterns say numerous studios and independent distributors have asked if they can use their app at upcoming preview screenings. With the use of the app, marketers will instantly know the tastes of the people in the theatres, instead of combing through piles of written cards (which are usually passed out to audience members at the start of these kind of screenings).

The latest feature MovieGrade is pushing out is less business-to-business and more for the general consumer. It’s called “Blend.” The idea is that this will be a remedy to the indecision that often comes when friends or significant others try to agree on something to watch.

“It allows users to add different friends into their group on the app, they then just hit a button that says ‘Blend,’ and it automatically starts analysing all the taste profiles in that group and shows you movies in theatres and on demand that you collectively would want to see,” said Joshua.

Here’s how Blend works:

Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, says the movie business needs to take on more services that are attractive to the next generation. And something that can compete with Rotten Tomatoes isn’t bad, either.

“Rotten Tomatoes oversimplifies reviews, and sometimes that does a disservice to the film and film community,” Bock told Business Insider. “That said, studios have no problem blasting their advertising campaigns with positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, but maybe MovieGrade can offer an alternative.”

“We’re here to reinvent the word-of-mouth screening,” Avi said. “When studios complain to us and vent how Rotten Tomatoes can literally ruin a movie before it even comes out based on reviews where those reviewers just hate the genre that movie is in, we want to help them find the people who do love that genre so they can get their movies in front of those people.”

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