On Saturday, the Chicago Tribune reported that Roger Ebert has withdrawn the right to use his trademarked (co-owned with Siskel’s estate) thumbs-up/thumbs-down rating system. Ebert is negotiating a new contract with Disney, the show’s producer, after a one year hiatus during which he successfully battled cancer. Ebert allowed the show and his co-host Richard Roeper to continue using the thumb ratings during what he called "good faith negotiations," but recently changed his mind when he felt negotiations were not progressing sufficiently. So far, two episodes have been taped without thumb ratings.
It will be interesting to see whether the thumb ratings are a powerful enough mark to get Ebert the contract he is looking for. My feeling is that we have moved from the era of thumbs to the era of more comprehensive ratings like Rotten Tomatoes. It is much easier and more reliable to go to an internet site available whenever you want it (for example, right after you decide to go to a movie) that aggregates opinions of critics around the country, than to wait for a television program and a couple of thumbs. But the thumbs are icons.