Spoilers earn their low reputation

by Rick Kushman

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

25 June 2008


Today’s rant about modern media involves a 21st century concept that tells us a lot about changing technology and, really, morality.

The concept is “spoilers,” and it applies to everything from bloggers who give away endings, to the people who get their hands on movies and TV shows before they’re ready and, well, give away endings.

They ... Hey out there: By the end of this column, Kushman’s gonna call the spoiler dudes immature, self-centered and mean.

See? It’s everywhere. That spoiler is correct, however. Spoiling shows and films for the rest of us is a form of public vandalism, a raised finger to regular folks who’ve done nothing to the spoiler, and it’s a lot like the jerk who throws paint on a mural or cuts down trees in a park.

There have been a handful of recent, annoying spoiler incidents, including the spread online last week of the new Fox show, “Fringe,” created by J.J. Abrams and scheduled to premiere in September. That one is a complicated little story, however, which I’ll get to in a bit.

The defense of lots of people who spoil is that they can. Someone sent them a video or script, or they managed to get it themselves. They must be so proud. That’s just like saying because they own a marking pen, they have to write on walls.

And some do it for money. They’re trying to drive traffic to their Web sites or sell themselves as good reporters, albeit sleazy ones.

For other people, it really is just immaturity. It’s why there’s so much vandalism around schools. Young, still-developing brains think nasty pranks are funny. Or sometimes, it’s about getting attention, just like the dummy willing to take the sting of a high-dive belly flop for the momentary notoriety.

But there’s another, more complicated side to this subject. The digital age has changed everything about entertainment, including where and when we watch shows and movies. Some people argue that, even after a full season of, say, ABC’s “Lost,” critics and entertainment writers should avoid giving away plot points because many viewers watch TV shows now by renting a whole season on DVD.

On the other side, some serious, respected critics argue that they’ll include spoilers if they need them to add context or depth to a review.

I fall in the middle of that. Most people still watch TV on TV (or on digital recorders of TV). Once a show airs, the public chat is on. And it’s most interesting and fun when it’s fresh.

But reviewers - real reviewers, not the simple “It rocked, dude” geniuses - should be able to produce meaningful critiques without giving too much away. And what’s the point of ruining someone else’s fun? At the least, as clunky as it may feel, warn readers the spoiler is coming.

And so we come to the case of “Fringe,” a sci-fi thriller and one of the few fall TV shows already getting some attention, in big part because it’s coming from Abrams, a creator of “Lost.”

A high-quality download of “Fringe” has been zipping around the Net, and the first question is, so what? If you want to wait until Sept. 9 and the excitement of a new season, just don’t watch it online. Or if you watch it now, what’s the harm?

Not much, really. Maybe a tick lower ratings for Fox. Like you care.

A bit worse is that word of the storylines may spread and spoil the premiere for some people.

But, just as likely, this “leak” might have come from Fox itself, which could be trying to build some viral buzz. At least that’s the speculation also floating around the Net.

It’s enough to make you nuts, and it gets back to the point that spoilers, and everything around them, are annoying. And that technology, for all its gifts to us (especially DVRs), also makes the world more complicated than I want it to be.


As long as we’re dancing around with technology and TV, there’s a report that the number of people watching video online has not grown in the past year, but the people who are watching are watching more of it.

That comes from comScore, a Virginia-based Internet marketing research company. It said 71 percent of the U.S. Internet audience - equaling a staggering 134 million people - watched videos online in April (the most recent month measured), vs. the 74 percent in April a year ago.

On the other hand, video fans watched an average of 82 clips and 228 minutes online in the month, compared with the 63 clips and 158 minutes a year ago.

For what it’s worth, Nielsen Media also reported in April that the average American watches 4 hours and 55 minutes of TV a day, up a couple of minutes from 2007. And what’s that all mean? Not sure, except lots of people spends lots of time in front of screens watching stuff.


Finally, as long as we’re on statistics, the No. 1 TV show on the planet is “CSI,” drawing 83.9 million viewers across the globe at some point in the year.

That’s according to Eurodata TV Worldwide, which monitors 51 countries with 1.6 billion potential viewers. If the “CSI” creators had a dollar for every person who watched ... you know, actually, I think that’s exactly how much they’re getting paid. See why people go into TV?

Topics: spoilers
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