Written by Media

A Disingenous Newspaper

Yesterday the free UK newspaper, Metro, managed to publish a massive great spoiler on the current series of Game of Thrones. While discussions about current TV series are the meat and drink of newspapers – think of all the articles about who will be the next Doctor Who? However Metro ran this “news story” on page three, and illustrated it with a half-page photo that very clearly, showed part of what happened. (Incidentally, that image was pretty graphic considering real life recent events involving knives).
Metro rightly got hammered in social media yesterday with hundreds of Tweets from angry readers who hadn’t seen goings on in the series yet.
Today, in a typically bullish response, Metro ran a piece basically defending itself, highlighting on several occasions that the episode had already been shown (completely irrelevant in today’s TV watching world). Newspapers never like to admit that they’ve screwed something up. So they come out punching.
Now to be clear, I don’t read Metro – and only saw the headline when fellow commuters read the paper. But its prevalence on public transport in big cities around the UK makes it ubiquitous. And in any case I’d also seen the UK airing of the show on Sky Atlantic on Monday night, so it wasn’t a spoiler for me.
But I’m also well aware that the vast majority of Metro’s readership hasn’t seen the show. Most will not have even had the opportunity to watch the show yet.
Here are just some of the reasons:
– They were busy on Monday and Tuesday nights, and hadn’t had a chance to catch up.
– They were watching the excellent BBC2 show The Fall, and will catch-up with a later showing
– They were saving up episodes to watch together on their PVR
– They are Virgin Media customers (vast chunks of London are cabled so this is a significant part of the audience) and don’t have access to Sky Atlantic
– They don’t have pay TV and watch the series on DVD or Blu-ray
Sky knows that this is how people watch TV shows these days. That’s why they show Game of Thrones multiple times a week, and make it available to catch-up with on computers and mobile devices (although I’d recommend against watching this particular show in a public place).
The nature of the show means that it is very different to fire on EastEnders or a murder on Coronation Street. I’ll reiterate. Despite it being shown on TV on Monday, most people will not have watched it yet.
The word “spoiler” seemingly emerged during the pre-web Usenet era of the internet. Once upon a time, there was no rush. Economically film prints used in the UK would be “used” versions that had already done the rounds in the US. Viewers with little real knowledge of what was being made and when accepted that there were often long delays between a film or TV programme’s US release and it hitting UK shores. Famously, Star Wars opened in late May 1977 in the US, not reaching the UK until late December the same year, with most people not seeing the film until 1978. The coming of the internet meant that it was far easier to learn more than you wanted to know about a show ahead of time. Learning the murderer of Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks was a good example.
Yet today, while films and TV shows get near simultaneous global releases, our watching habits have changed out of all recognition. Netflix releases a series all at once; we may gorge a physical DVD boxset many months or years after a show came out (c.f. The Wire); PVRs and streaming catch-up services like iPlayer mean that we schedule programmes on our own terms – we don’t let channel schedulers dictate our lives – sport and live reality shows excepted.
Does this make it harder to sometimes talk about films and television programmes in the mainstream media?
Yes it does.
The subject comes up quite a lot on the Kermode/Mayo film podcast where sometimes previous films are used to compare with new fare, and invariably someone will complain that a classic has been spoiled for them. Is it a spoiler to know what happens at the end of Romeo and Juliet or King Lear? Or to learn about Rosebud in Citizen Kane? What about Luke Skywalker’s parents or who dies at what point in the Harry Potter saga?
To be honest, while I wouldn’t expect any serious published piece about any of these productions to shy away from revealing what happened, I wouldn’t expect a headline, title or accompanying imagery to immediately reveal all.
One of the spurious arguments Metro has put forward is that the book was published 13 years ago (and The Daily Show made a similar quip in Tuesday’s episode). That’s true, but we’re watching a TV adaptation that aired for the first time last Sunday in the US and on Monday in the UK. Clearly very many viewers will not have read the books. I know I haven’t.
Metro is fully aware that TV viewing habits have changed. The reason I use the word “disingenuous” above is because the editor knows perfectly well what he was doing when he published those spoilers. And he’s being mendacious if he doesn’t acknowledge that.
Metro sells itself to advertisers as a leading “Urban Media Brand”. In their own words, its audience is “cash rich and time poor” – in other words the kind of people who use PVRs and catch up with things on demand.
In the end Metro doesn’t care. A Twitter storm yesterday means that they’ve already filled two pages of today’s paper. They’ve got page views on their website that they’ll go on to monetise. Unless people stop picking up a free paper, or advertisers stop using it, it makes no difference to them.
I’m not sure why this whole thing has exercised me so much. As I say, I wasn’t affected by it.
I just think it’s the utter contempt that Metro has shown its readers. I shouldn’t expect any more from a company that’s owned by Associated Newspapers.