Spoilers. They’re everywhere these days, and odds are if a viewer has ever waited to watch a big event (i.e. the finale of Game of Thrones or the Super Bowl) they have been subjected to a spoiler or two. In people’s willingness to overshare and make their opinions heard in an age of hyper-connectedness, they end up spoiling major plot points and outcomes for others, taking away the element of surprise.
Surprise is such a rarity in entertainment today that it has become one of the most valuable currencies content publishers can leverage. How valuable is surprise? In a landmark example, Disney willingly gave up potential revenue from The Child (a.k.a. Baby Yoda) merchandise during the 2019 holiday season. A noble sacrifice made to capture the magic of surprise, which that critical aspect of The Mandalorian delivered.
The astronomical rise of spoiler culture, largely due to social media, places a higher importance on the live viewing of entertainment – sports, movies, TV shows. A surprise, like the stabbing at the end of Parasite or the final snap in Avengers: Endgame, propels viewers back to when surprise was more common in entertainment. Today, Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit are part of many people’s daily lives, and they are also rife with spoilers. This abundance of spoilers has influenced the way that people consume content in the age of streaming.
When publishers opt to release culturally popular streaming content on a traditional weekly schedule, viewers often make time to watch as soon as it comes out. The alternative is to potentially suffer the spoilers. This is most frequently true with sports content. If fans cannot watch Super Bowl LIV live, odds are slim that they will go back and watch it after they have heard the score. Maybe die-hard Chiefs fans would revel in the glory again, but otherwise, why would someone retroactively watch a game when much of the suspense is not knowing the outcome?
Live viewing continues to grow steadily, up 32% year over year from Q4 2018 to Q4 2019, but video on demand (VOD), which offers ease of viewing at any time, is growing faster. The fact that VOD is growing faster than live viewing doesn’t mean that live is going to go away, or that its importance should be diminished. Even though live commands only a third of the share of viewing hours, live content commands 27% more minutes of watch time per viewing and it remains critically important for the type of culturally iconic content that has everyone talking at work the next morning.
In the world of streaming, no viewer watches 100% live content, but most viewers ensure that they watch the most important or culturally significant content the moment it’s released. As live video steadily grows, it remains a critically important path for audiences to consume media, especially content where the anticipation of surprise is the best part.