[Everyone’s a Reviewer] Variety Razzies Full-Time Movie CriticsPosted: March 9, 2010
In a memo that first circulated on Romanesko yesterday, Tim Gray, editor of inside-Hollywood industry pub Variety, announced to his staff that their main entertainment reviewers would no longer be kept on as full-time writers. As he penned:
It doesn’t make economic sense to have full-time reviewers, but Todd [McCarthy], Derek [Elley] and [David] Rooney have been asked to continue as freelancers.
Along with these full-time reductions, several other reviewers, most notably TV critic Brian Lowry, will be adding new responsibilities to their current review duties as to, assumingly, offset whatever loss Variety has forecasted.
The industry-watchers, especially in L.A., have been trying to sort through the news. As one movie blogger in L.A. noted, the reviews are often one of the most attractive parts of the entire publication, and McCarthy’s specifically. “[He] is the paper’s biggest star and the main reason readers all over the world read the august trade. His reviews post first, and are the best read thing in the paper, bar none.”
The L.A. Times movie bloggers unsurprisingly jumped headfirst into the news, as well, and took the opportunity for a direct shot with the headline “Is firing its critics really ‘economic reality’?”:
As anyone who regularly reads the venerable trade paper has surely noticed, even at the height of Oscar season Variety has been thinner than most of the starlets who walked the red carpet Sunday night […] It was inevitable that Variety would once again have to find ways to cut costs, though it was definitely a shock to see the paper get rid of its top critics, especially McCarthy, who after the death of Army Archerd and the departure of former editor Peter Bart is easily the most iconic presence at the paper.
The post from LAT’s Big Picture also did a great job at accounting the other things at play here:
Virtually every survey has shown that younger audiences have zero interest in critics. They take their cues for what movies to see from their peers, making decisions based on the buzz they’ve heard on Facebook, Twitter or some other form of social networking. If anyone pays any attention to critics at all, it’s through aggregation sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, which offer a consensus score based on an accumulated ranking of critical opinion.
The very real forces behind digital, user-generated reviews are changing things, I believe that. “Advance Critics Screenings” don’t have the weight they used to anymore, and the rise in credibility and capability for the peer recommendation is notable (trust me, I work for Edelman, we study that Trust Barometer like it’s our job).
Now, I hated the sensationalist, “trend” attitude of stories last summer about “how Twitter sank-or-swim [x] movie,” but there is at least a modicum amount of truth to the crowdsourced review. The story has to go beyond that, though, because the impact is dollars-and-cents in communication efforts of studios, not just trust of source. This phenomenon, bottom line, is affecting the spending of these studios as they transition ad dollars to be spent as marketing in social media channels.
Are the voices of the crowd creating an earth-moving impact on Hollywood? No. The actual words or trends of reviews are something to note, but not the only thing at play. However, the presence of these voices, the fact that anyone with a cell phone in a theater can become an instant reviewer, mandates that studios need to be actively involved early on the channel to affect or quell negative trends and conversations. That has a cost, and just enough that launching a TV show, concert or movie can’t be done in an advertisement in single-channel, inside-business rags.
No wonder Variety has to cut costs: it’s already behind the eight-ball by relying on a prop of loss-leading subscriptions and ads-per-capita. The movie reviewers are just blood on the wall, the real shift is how the studios want to spend money to reach consumers instead of critics. And until Variety incorporates that, they’ll keep making news this way instead.