After reading this post on how the MPAA decided to give a new film, “Bully” an R rating, despite it being a documentary about teenagers in high school, for teenagers in high school, I thought there might be a better way. If there was ever a situation that called for crowdsourcing, I think this is it.
There’s already many user-contributed ratings sites out there, including many movie sites. The one that I think gets the closest to ideal is IMDB‘s “Parent’s Guide”—contributors are asked to identify and describe scenes that parents might find issue with, rather than submitting opinions. If this were combined with an up/down vote sorting system á la StackExchange or Digg, parents could have an objective account of potentially difficult scenes in the movie, sorted by the number of parents who agree the scene is problematic, and decide easily for themselves. To provide an easy, single metric, parents could also contribute the minimum age they feel a person should be to see the movie, and the average minimum age could be the movie’s “rating”.
Of course, because ratings strongly affect the financial success of a movie, there would be huge incentives to game the system, and there would need to be mechanisms in place to prevent this. Moreover, the ratings would have to be available before the movie came out, so the people doing the rating woud get an early peek. One idea would be to have people sign up to be raters, but require strong identity verification—I’m thinking along the lines of government-issued IDs and credit cards. This would also allow verifiable demographics, so the ratings can be statistically weighted to make a representative U.S. sample (since the internet population on the site could easily be biased). Another option would be to let anyone sign up, and then for each movie randomly select a small subset to do the actual ratings; this way it would be harder to influence the raters of any particular movie. There’s probably other, better ideas for how to maintain a secure system; I’m just brainstorming here.
In the end, the system would have all of the things MPAA does not: informative ratings from a transparent system that is inherently agreed-upon by audience members. The only thing missing is getting the movie studios to agree to use it instead of the MPAA ratings (or in addition to, while the MPAA still has some sway). Anyone want to build this?