IMDB RIGS 'USER' RATINGS
by J. Neil Schulman, guest contributor.
[June 28, 2008]
Okay, I'm a little slow, but I just figured out that the IMDb user ratings
for movies listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDd) not only don't reflect ratings by anyone who has actually seen the movies -- they
also don't honestly reflect the ratings of IMDb users!
Here's what I found out:
Following the two film festival
screenings of Lady Magdalene's -- February 2nd and April 3rd -- Lady
Magdalene's had nine "user ratings" with an average IMDb User Rating
of 7.1 -- pretty decent.
Since I didn't encourage
anyone to "stuff the ballot box," I had high confidence that this rating
fairly reflected the opinion of people who had seen Lady
Magdalene's at one of its screenings, or from the screeners I had sent
out, and then went to the Lady Magdalene's.page on IMDb and registered their rating of the movie.
Suddenly, on May 27th --
7 weeks after its most recent festival screening -- five ratings of "1"
appeared within a 24-hour period, and dropped Lady
Magdalene's IMDb User Rating from 7.1 to 1.8.
9 from Outer Space has an IMDb User rating of 3.5. Ishtar has an IMDb User Rating of 3.6. Beyond
the Valley of the Dolls has an IMDb User Rating of 5.6.
Got the picture?
I assumed that someone had
seen the recent publicity on Lady
Magdalene's and decided to trash the movie as an act of vandalism,
since nobody who had seen the movie at a festival was likely to wait 7
to 14 weeks before going onto IMDb and rating the movie -- and certainly
not five times in 24 hours.
I was wrong. The ratings of Lady Magdalene's weren't by
IMDb users at all. The new rating came from IMDb's own programmers.
Here is how IMDb explains
"About IMDb's Movie Ratings
"The User Rating score of a title
in the Internet Movie Database is based on a "weighted average" of the
votes cast by our large base of registered users on a 1 to 10 scale (10
being best). Weighting takes into account additional factors and
calculations besides just the number of people who voted and what their
votes were. That means it is not the arithmetic average or arithmetic
mean of the scores, though those can be seen by looking at the detailed
breakdown of the user ratings.
"We use this formula to help prevent
organized groups of people from attempting to "stuff the ballot box" and
create an artificially inflated (or deflated) rating for a title.
To prevent abuse of the system, we do not disclose what the additional
factors and calculations in the formula are.
"We have carefully refined the
weighting formula over the many years the database has been in operation,
with all titles being affected by it equally, so as to provide the maximum
levels of fairness and accuracy across the board. Though IMDb staff
may be displayed as a category in the detailed breakdown of the voting,
the staff or non-staff status of voters is not a part of the weighting
formula and does not affect the final weighted score. And because
of the universal application of the weighting formula, no title has been
or can be singled out for ratings manipulation by our staff."
Bluntly, IMDb is telling
us that their so-called "user" ratings aren't based on the ratings of
their users at all -- but are instead a mathematically arbitrary rating
according to some staffer's own secret programming biases and numerical
It's a dishonest count that,
just coincidentally, favors studio movies with high page hits and are biased
against indie films with fewer page hits.
It's hard enough getting
into major film festivals that are already abandoning indie films for high budget,
star-driven movies that are often studio films. This year's Tribeca
Film Festival opened with Universal's Baby Mama. Last year's Cinevegas opened with Ocean's
IMDb is a subsidiary of Amazon.com,
and they just acquired Withoutabox, which handles submissions of indie
films to film festivals.
New Line Cinema, which was
supposed to acquire indie films at the festivals and put them into theaters,
instead just started producing high budget films of their own. And
because it duplicated what its parent company, Time Warner, was already
doing, the efficiency experts decided to fold New Line into the main division
and eliminate duplicate staffing.
The same thing just happened
with Paramount Vantage, which just got folded into CBS Paramount.
Orwell got it wrong. The nightmare isn't that Big
Brother is watching. The nightmare is that mass-media are now marginalizing
the independents, so that the audience never gets a chance to watch.
IMDb's fraudulent ratings
are just one more tool that the corporate media giants are using to convince
audiences that only they can entertain them.
Copyright 2008 by J. Neil Schulman