Of the great debates of the ages, there's one that carries particular weight in our content-heavy culture: How long, and in what context, is it appropriate to wait before sharing a spoiler for a film or television series? There are many finer points. Is the spoiler shared one-on-one by text, or to the masses through social media? What are the rules governing live events, versus something that can be consumed at one's own pace?
A new survey from the United Kingdom purports to have the answers. However, like the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, it may make us want to go. back and rephrase the question.
For the curious, the answer is to the question of how long to wait before discussing spoilers is [SPOILER WARNING]: 33 hours after a TV show airs and 10 days after a film is released.
MusicMagpie, which commissioned the survey of 2,000 U.K. residents age 16 and older, does not go into specifics regarding its methodology. It's likely that few respondents actually answered "33 hours" or "10 days," and more probable those figures represent a mean average of all responses. In absence of details, we have to take these numbers as received wisdom, or at least as the collective consciousness of a Britain wracked by anxiety, division and, yes, spoilers.
The Brits didn't give us tidy figures. It would have been easy enough to say one should wait "one day" or "one week." However, both sums are just slightly above those basic units, giving an approximately 33 percent "grace period" in both cases.
Let's game this out with a few particulars. Let's say an episode of Westworld aired on a Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Generously presuming it ended at 10 p.m., that would mean it's considered unacceptable to discuss spoilers until Tuesday at 7 a.m.; Monday water cooler talk is as forbidden as it is tempting. However, co-workers who failed to catch up on their Westworld homework on Monday evening should be unwilling to complain about midweek spoilers in the break room
In the case of movies, let's say that you went to a midnight showing of Avengers: Endgame on Thursday, April 25. Ten days would put you at midnight, May 5. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), that 10-day window more or less coincides with the guidelines that Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo proposed. Aware that Endgame would be a cultural event, the Russo brothers were in effect asking the same question as the British respondents, and came up with the same answer.
One of the things this survey doesn't tell us is how this proposed spoiler treaty effects shows that arrive on streaming services as complete seasons. Should we give viewers 33 hours per episode? Should we treat the entire season as a movie? Or, given the time investment required, should we be even more conservative with our spoiler-free window?
Spoilers can make tempers flare, as reflected in the survey, which found that 34 percent of respondents "have fallen out with a friend, family member or colleague" for revealing a plot element of a movie or TV show. Ironically, there is evidence that spoilers may actually enhance the experience of consuming media.
As long as there remains a stigma around spoilers, there will be attempts to create and enforce a social protocol around them. These findings don't tell you what to do if you're spoiled, or how best to avoid them; but if you're someone who wonders how and when to start talking about content, you may benefit from these guidelines.