Social Media Spoils Appointment Television

Spoiler300Most Americans learned that the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team beat Russia in real-time when commentator Al Michaels emphatically screamed “Do you believe in miracles?” The victory was arguably the best moment in U.S. Olympic history and people all over the country cheered in unison.

If that same epic moment were to happen today, many Americans would probably find out like this:

RT @ESPN Do u believ ‘n miracles? @USA beats @USSR 4-3! #CoolOlympicMoment

Technology has put every bit of necessary (and unnecessary) information at our fingertips, and while the benefits of our Immediate Gratification Culture are immense, one major drawback is the demise of synchronized media experiences that allow us to applaud or groan in unison with the rest of the viewing community.

Social media platforms feed on entertainment content. A Lear Center informal study of Twitter’s trending topics in May/June 2009 revealed that 56% of the most talked about topics on Twitter were entertainment focused. Social media offers people the opportunity to find affinity communities to share their confusion about the latest Lost episode or their disgust over who heard auf Wiedersehen that week on Project Runway. However, it also dramatically increases the possibility that those same shows will be spoiled for other viewers.

Some consider it uncouth to post a spoiling Facebook status in our time-shifting culture, while others are of the “if you don’t want to know, then don’t DVR the show” school of thought. The latter is probably fair in the case of time-shifters – if it takes you three days to finally watch who was kicked off American Idol, then you don’t have much room to complain about a social media spoiler. However, if you live on the West Coast, you should feel free to continue complaining about spoilers induced by discriminatory time-zone practices.

Networks have been time-zoneist since the beginning of television. All content is created for the Eastern Time Zone and it trickles down from there. I understand the overall reasoning, but exceptions need to be made for appointment-viewing TV shows.

A 2008 Lear Center report entitled “The Future of Television” says that “appointment television” has mostly been killed by the Internet and DVRs, but that “sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the NBA playoffs, and unscripted shows like American Idol and the Academy Awardscan still bring a whole family together in front of a TV.”

One of the punishments of living in Los Angeles is that even though we host all the award shows, we don’t get to watch any of them in real time (except for those lucky few with East Coast feeds). Therefore, if Pacific viewers want to watch without spoilers, they have to live in an isolation booth for hours before the show begins. It isn’t a case of just avoiding Facebook and Twitter; the ticker on CNN will show results, major newspaper sites will announce winners and media email alerts will fill your inbox with dreaded spoilers.

I will give credit to many on the East Coast who are cognizant of this and will try hard during award shows to not give away too much, but even their vague status updates can be problematic. For example, when my Facebook news feed was filled with “I can’t believe Kanye did that” statuses during the MTV Video Music Awards, it still spoiled the impact of seeing him steal the microphone from that young woman who stole Beyonce’s rightful award.

There are calls for someone to steal the Olympics from NBC. Viewers understood time-delay content during the Torino and Beijing Olympics, but since Vancouver is in the Pacific Time Zone, the lack of live content has been surprising. I am an avid Olympics enthusiast, but I have yet to see an important moment from the Vancouver Olympics in real-time.

While I was watching the qualifying round for the Snowboard Cross, a tweet from the Wall Street Journal informed me that American Seth Wescott had won Gold… in the Snowboard Cross. While I was gearing up for Bode Miller’s Olympic return, ESPN.com told me that he won a bronze medal. All Olympic drama has been removed because NBC is saving all top content for their primetime Olympic slot – which is when the most people are watching, but how many of those people already know the results?

I hope future technological advancements will somehow level the playing field and allow people to consume the content that they want on their own timeline, without spoilers.

Is there an app for that?

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