We organize our findings according to three main themes. The first theme relates to considering how film viewers react to and manage conflicting information from different judgement devices (such as IMDb ratings, critic and user reviews, and other sources). Here, the role of ratings and their use is considered in some detail. The second theme relates to how film viewers respond when presented with conflicting information from a single judgement device. Typically, this was seen in situations where a rating score did not give a clear signal about a film’s quality, and the narrative information (in the form of user and critic reviews) was mixed. The final theme relates to how film viewers use judgement devices after viewing a film.
Dealing with conflicting information from different judgement devices
Our findings indicate that ratings can play a significant role in determining film choice. As noted, IMDb provides a rating between 1 and 10 for all films listed on the site, with ten being the maximum. Both our netnographic and interview data revealed that a large number of people placed a heavy weighting on the IMDb rating of a film, and also its ranking, in choosing to see a particular film. In particular, there was strong evidence in the netnographic data that a film’s inclusion in IMDb’s Top 250 was influential in determining film choice. Furthermore, a number of interviewees discussed the manner in which these film ratings were used in the presence of conflicting, or potentially conflicting, information about a film’s quality from different judgement devices. Frequently, interviewees indicated that they prioritized ratings as a judgement device in their film choices and this was done in a number of different ways. Firstly, the rating score was used as an initial screening tool. Therefore, interviewees indicated that for films with which they were not familiar, the film’s rating was used as a ‘hurdle’ requirement, whereby they would not consider a film as a candidate for viewing unless it had achieved a particular score (for example, six out of ten) or higher on IMDb. If the film’s rating met individual, often arbitrarily determined, cut-off points, then information from other judgement devices was then considered in making a final assessment about whether or not to see a particular film. One interviewee described this process as follows:
If it [the score] is over [eight out of 10] I will go to see [the movie], but if it’s a new movie, I don’t know the actors, I don’t know the actress, I don’t know the story, but the score is very low, probably I will not go to see it.
The other main way in which rating data were prioritised by our interviewees in the choice of films was in its use as a ‘tie-breaker’ in the presence of conflicting information. In explaining this, interviewees described the situation where the evidence they had collected regarding a film’s quality was mixed, or in the terminology of Karpik (2010), where different judgement devices provided conflicting information. In this situation, the rating data was used as the final determinant in the decision about whether or not to see a film.
Apart from using rating scores to facilitate decision making in the presence of conflicting information, another approach used by some filmgoers was to try to avoid, or minimise the possibility of being exposed to, conflicting information by focusing exclusively on a single judgement device. This approach was thought to be particularly effective and somewhat expedient insofar as it removes, for example, the ambiguity that arises when judgement devices conflict, and it is a relatively simple tactic to apply to film choice.
In general, however, despite the advantages of the above processes, mostly in terms of their simplicity, both IMDb users and interviewees indicated that reliance on a single judgement device can often lead to unsatisfactory viewing experiences. The below comments from two different IMDb users (writing about two different films) were representative of this view:
“This [film] is the most horrific piece of trash I have ever seen. I rented it based solely on the comments here …I have to say that IMDb viewer comments let me down.”
“I purchased this DVD because it had won the Academy Award for best picture. Directly after viewing it, I crushed the DVD into tiny little pieces and disposed of it because the film is absolute garbage.”
In this respect, while it often appeared that decision quality suffered as a result of relying solely on a single judgement device, there are potentially other reasons, unrelated to decision quality, explaining why filmgoers seek to minimise their reliance on certain judgement devices. Although, Karpik (2010) notes that individuals often use judgement devices in the evaluation of a singularity to minimise the uncertainty surrounding its quality, we found, in the case of some interviewees, evidence of attempts to minimise the amount of information collected about a film, in order to avoid knowing too much about a film prior to seeing it. This was so that the enjoyment of the cinematic experience was not reduced, as reflected by one interviewee:
I think there’s too much information [available] because for people who haven’t seen the movie, they’re getting too many details. Sometimes you know the end before you go there.
In a limited number of cases, we noted situations whereby people were happy to ignore any judgement device in choosing which film to see. This occurred in cases where the film-watching experience was primarily a social encounter16, not motivated by a desire to see a particular film or based on a prior investigation of whether a particular film aligned with individual preferences. In this manner, one interviewee commented:
Sometimes I watch [a] movie to have a topic [to discuss] with my friends. Sometimes if they are interested in the movies which I may not be interested in, I will sacrifice my time and watch [the movie] and talk to them, so that we can make a bit of friendship [sic].
In these situations, when the quality of film was irrelevant in the decision making process, the use of judgement devices to reduce uncertainty about the film’s quality was not required.