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Posts tagged ‘spoilers’

My Losing Battle Against Spoilers, Olympic Edition

North Korea faces South Korea in ping pong.

Source: Korea Herald

Airing the Olympics should be a no-brainer. It’s like having the Super Bowl. Film the game, air the game. Make sure not to show exposed breasts during your halftime show. As long as you remember these three things, you’ll get millions upon millions of viewers and no real backlash.

But NBC has decided to complicate step 2 by airing the Olympics on a tape delay for American audiences. While the world watches live, the US has to wait until the network-calculated peak viewing hours to watch their favorite sports. And when those hours come along, well, I hope you like swimming and gymnastics, because other than a tiny bit of volleyball, those are the only sports I’ve ever stumbled across just by turning on the TV.

There’s only one problem: the Internet exists. Which means people are used to getting information pretty much immediately. There’s a good reason that, even in an era of video on-demand and DVR, sports are one of the few things I make a point to watch live, whenever possible. When something real is going on, when the rest of the world is feeling the same tension you do, watching TV becomes a more social experience. That’s true even if you’re alone. Mid-game phone calls, posts, and tweets are routine, and a good way to get through tedious commercials.

This isn’t just true for sports. Well I’ve never really felt the same way about reality shows (because I don’t watch them) or pre-recorded comedy/drama shows (because those rarely feel “social” in the same way sports do), I can understand the appeal of taking the time to watch premieres live.

NBC has apparently completely lost sight of that basic appeal to the social nature of sports. And weirdly, I’m pretty sure they think they’ve done the opposite. No doubt the decision to not air things live went down like this:

NBC EXEC #1: “London is 5 hours away from the East coast, 8 hours away from the West. All the events are going to be happening while people are at work!”

NBC EXEC #2: “What if we just wait until everybody’s home from work, then air the games?”

NBC EXEC #3: “Brilliant! That way we can cherry-pick the events with huge audience potential that we already know have dramatic outcomes! Nothing but swimnastics from 5 to 11 pm!”

INTERN: “Why don’t we just air the events live during the day and then re-air the cherry-picked versions during primetime?”

NBC EXEC #1: “You’re fired.”

Rather than relying on the inherent appeal of live games, which naturally create the sort of “event” TV networks always want for their programming, NBC thought it could recreate the “event” in a more commercially viable time slot.

But, all criticism aside, the approach is bizarrely actually working. The opening ceremonies set a record-breaking 40.7 million viewers. While many are bristling at NBC’s hyping of pre-determined events, many more are willing to go along for the ride with the tightly controlled presentation. I myself have probably watched as much of the games as ever and watched a lot more of the “big” matches than I would otherwise.

Still, I miss randomly stumbling across some weird outlier game because that just happens to be on when I turn on TV.  That’s always been the greatest appeal of the Olympics for me: finding myself surprisingly engrossed by hammer throwing or race walking or badminton.

Apparently North and South Korea faced off in table tennis this past Monday. I had no idea. I would’ve loved to watch that. But by the time I found out that this match had happened, I also found out who won. That takes away a lot of the incentive to seek it out after the fact.

My Losing Battle Against Spoilers

The Usual Suspects

Source: MGM Studios

Ever since I got a DVR… wait, scratch that… ever since my girlfriend’s roommate got a DVR (which first introduced me to the joy of pre-recorded television), I completely stopped watching live TV.

One exception: sports games, though there are a few I’ve recorded and saved for later, or at least tried to. I’m a Redskins fan, which means I’m a Cowboys anti-fan. So when Washington plays Dallas, it’s always a big deal to me and to most of my friends back on the East Coast. But nobody cares about the Skins where I live now, so I watch these games by myself these days. Now, I don’t know about you, but I infinitely prefer watching any sports games in a social setting. It’s the only way to ignore the endless loop of five or six truck, phone, and beer commercials that I’ll have to see all season. So when I’m watching by myself, I tend to absentmindedly fill the commercial breaks by playing around on my phone or iPad. Sooner or later, that means I’ll stupidly check Facebook without thinking. That’s when I see comments that look something like this:

“ANOTHER interception?!”

“Geez Skins. What happened during halftime? Did you all get drunk?”

“Holding out hope. If we can just score three touchdowns and a field goal in the next 4 minutes… (sobs)”

“Well, there’s always next team owner.”

I’ve only made it through one quarter and I already know that I have nothing to look forward to but an embarrassing loss. Sometimes I’ll continue anyway, but usually I don’t feel that it’s worth it.

This is an ever-increasing problem for me in the digital age. I’m a person who generally likes to stay up-to-date and I’m also a person who likes to stay connected to my interests. But I’m also a person who wants to watch movies, TV shows, and sports games whenever I feel like it, which very rarely means live. That’s a tough combination.

The internet’s catch-all protection for people like me are the words “spoiler alert.” That pair of words is thrown around in articles to immediately justify sharing any information. The idea is that if you ever read past the magic words, you are responsible for whatever secrets are ruined.

Problem is, most people don’t read content online that way. Unless we’re very engaged in a specific article, our eyes dart around the page and grab little bits of information in a scattershot pattern. It’s very easy to read below the magic words before we’ve even reached “spoiler alert.” Worse still, but very frequent, is immediately following the warning words with the spoiler, as in: SPOILER ALERT! ­­­________ dies in the next episode. (A death of a major character on The Wire was spoiled for me this way.)

Now, I’m not complaining too much. To some degree, spoilers eventually become a natural part of the culture. I knew how Citizen Kane and Spartacus ended by the time I was ten because it was impossible to avoid pop-culture’s fleeting references to “Rosebud” and “I’m Spartacus!” I remember my older brother telling me, when I was too young to see it, the grim plot twist at the very end of Night of the Living Dead. I never felt like that was a “spoiler,” just a way of letting me know that it was a legitimately good film, not just some cheap scares. It didn’t diminish my enjoyment when, years later, I finally saw it.

A psychological study not too long ago concluded that knowing the ending of a book in advance actually enhances enjoyment. The researchers involved posited that this might be because a spoiled story is “easier” to read, that the burden of the reader is no longer on following plot but in enjoying language. Take Shakespeare for example. Even in his day, the plot lines of his stories were explicitly laid out. Comedies ended in weddings. Tragedies ended in death. People aren’t shocked by Juliet stabbing herself, but they can be shocked by a good performance that wrings anguish and pain out of her suicide.

There are a lot of films, mostly ones with some kind of twist, that I appreciated more on second viewing. But even if I liked Fight Club better on round two, the confusion of my first time is still a singular experience. Hearing a story the first time will never be like hearing it a second time, or third, or fourth, etc.

So even if science has officially decided that spoilers are helpful, I still hate knowing too much. It robs me of a potentially unique experience, even if it leads to a supposedly more enjoyable one.

So my one request to the blogging and commenting world is to be a tiny bit more cognizant of people like me. I understand that you all want to discuss what shocking thing just happened on Breaking Bad, but I feel like I have a right to not quarantine myself from the internet until I’m all caught up on all my interests.


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