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When is a spoiler no longer a spoiler?


With this past weekend having brought us The Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones: Battle of Winterfell, there’s a lot of buzz on the interwebs and tweeters about spoilers. People are begging others not to reveal major plot points from either of these shows and shaming those who do. But what is the generally-acceptable duration of a “spoilers blackout”? How long do I need to keep the details of major entertainment event secret so as to not ruin it for others?

There are many factors to consider, but after literally seconds of careful thought, it seems to me that a major one is the medium or channel by which the event is initially distributed.

There seems to be a proportional relationship between the distribution channel’s barrier to entry and the length of what I would say is an acceptable expectation for a “spoiler blackout”. That is, the more barriers, in terms of inconvenience or cost, that exist for a given person to experience a given event, the longer you should give them before revealing spoilers.

Let’s break the event types down in order of increasing barrier to entry.

Current events are news. There is no acceptable spoiler blackout period for news. You don’t get up the day after the general election and ask people not to tell you who the new U.S. President is because you DVR’d the election coverage. Current events are just that: current. If you missed it, everyone else is obligated to bring you up to speed as soon as possible.

Sporting events are tricky though. You don’t go into work on the Monday after the Superbowl and ask people to not talk about the winner until you get a chance to watch your recording. But, not every sporting event is the Superbowl. Still, in my opinion, these should be treated like current events, but I have, on occasion, withheld results upon request. So, with the exception of the Big Games, I think sports spoilers are allowed unless the listeners specifically pre-warn the speaker. But there is a limit and I think any requested spoiler blackout expires at midnight the day of the event.

For Broadcast TV, otherwise known as the free content you can get over the air with an antenna or basic cable, I’ll give the day of the event plus one. Even if you are a dedicated fan of a particular show, it’s reasonable that you may have to miss an important episode and have to catch up with a DVR recording or via streaming. This also takes into consideration that some popular streaming options (like iTunes or Hulu) are only available the next day after the broadcast. After that, it’s your responsibility to avoid social media and discussions that might involve spoilers. Face it, if you claim to care so much you don’t want it spoiled, you’re probably a big enough fan where you’d want to see it as soon as possible anyway. There’s probably a proportional relationship there too.

For most shows broadcast on premium (pay) TV (like HBO, Netflix), most people watch after some delay and not usually at time of broadcast or release. So let’s say a courteous spoiler blackout for these would be the day of broadcast plus three days. Since Game of Thrones episodes are aired on Sundays at 9PM, on Thursday I’m going to be talking openly about who died.

Now there is a special case for premium TV series or seasons where all episodes are released at one time: you need to give accommodation to those who may need a little more time than you to cram through a dozen or more episodes. Give it broadcast + 8 days – for those people who can’t get to it the first weekend.

Likewise, for movies, not everyone can get out on release weekend, so I think you need to give at least the next weekend. But, with movies, since you can’t immediately enjoy them in the comfort of your own home, there is the additional barrier to participation of having to plan time to go to a theater. Also, because I think there is a desire to have the movies we love succeed at the box office, and since we generally hold the efforts to make a movie in higher regard than a TV show, there’s another courtesy to be given here to the movie makers. I’ll give it two additional weekends, or release day + 14 days.

For the record, I waited a good month before I told anyone that Han Solo died in Episode VII, and I’ve never revealed who the final 5 Cylons were. But this gets to another possible factor: if I reveal major spoilers, will I damage that which I love? For example, does it take away from others’ need to purchase a ticket or otherwise add themselves to the audience metrics?

To summarize, and for easy reference, here are my suggested spoiler blackout periods for each type of event or show:

Spoiler Blackout
Current events
Sporting events (major)
Sporting events (standard)
until midnight same day
Broadcast TV show
day of broadcast + 1 day
Premium TV show (weekly release)
day of broadcast + 3 days
Premium TV show (season release)
day of release + 8 days
day of release + 14 days

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This entry was posted on April 30, 2019 by and tagged , , , , .


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Anything Matt Hovey publishes online is his own personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of his employers.
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