Sunday, 25 January 2015

Spoiler Alert: My Audience Research

Last year I conducted audience research as part of my MA in Film and Television studies. My project was entitled Coronation Street: A Survey of Fan Engagement and Viewership, and I thought I’d share some of my findings with you. Our blogger Graeme recently wrote an interesting piece on spoilers, and as I have been considering writing on the topic myself, and this was a specific section in my survey, I thought where better to begin?

To spoil, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is to “diminish or destroy the value or quality of” something, and a spoiler is defined, amongst other things, as “a description of an important plot development…which if previously known may reduce surprise or suspense for a first-time viewer or reader”. Where film and television drama is concerned, revealing too much or ruining the ending for others is a big no no, but this is not the case with soap opera. Indeed, spoilers are generally considered a positive thing, and have long been part of the discourse which surrounds them with the programme makers themselves actively releasing information on upcoming storylines. This makes the spoiler an interesting phenomenon when it comes to soap, and something that has become particularly prolific.

When it comes to Coronation Street, in addition to the usual written teasers of what is to come, we can also find memes, photographs and video previews concerning the week ahead, and in recent times, we've seen ITV release trailers showing actual scenes from upcoming seasons, and big storylines such as Tracy and Rob's wedding and the bus crash. Like Graeme, I too have had the pleasure and privilege of attending ITV for various press days, interviewing cast members about the action to come and viewing previews, and they're always intriguing experiences. The spoiler is most certainly alive and well, but I was interested to know how people perceive and consume them, so it’s over to those who completed my survey.

Of my 339 respondents, 237 (69.91%) were female and 102 (30.09%) were male. 43.95% (149) confirmed that they did read spoilers and made a point of doing so while a marginally greater number, 48.67% (165), only read them sometimes, and don’t go out of their way to do so. Amazingly, only 25 people (7.37%) of the 339 claimed to never read them. Male and female figures in respect of this and other questions on this topic did not deviate much from one another. Spoilers are therefore consumed by 93% of my respondents. But with less than half actually seeking them out, what do the viewing public actually think of them? Naturally word count precludes me from giving a full picture of the huge response I received, but I hope you will find the following summaries of interest. 

Those who responded negatively to spoilers had some interesting and sophisticated insights. Some felt that there was too much information released, and watch in hope that something will appear that they won’t have been expecting. These viewers felt that the volume of spoilers was such that watching the show could almost be considered redundant. They felt that if there was less revealed, their enjoyment and engagement with the show would be greater. It has been interesting to observe some unexpected twists in the interim such as Tracy’s decision to shop Rob to the police, and the mystery surrounding Gavin’s identity to which we were not privy, and these will undoubtedly have been welcomed by such viewers. One insightful respondent felt that if viewers didn’t know what was going to happen, they would be less likely to form negative opinions of the drama to come.

Of those that do read spoilers, the main reason is curiosity and nosiness. A number stated that they wanted to see if what they thought would happen would occur, and also, to see how the storyline would be handled. Spoilers are also a source of excitement for some and used as a means of watching on a selective basis for others, with their choice as to whether or not to tune in motivated by storylines as well as characters. They also act as a substitute if the viewer, such as those abroad, can’t see the programme, but one very interesting observation revealed that spoilers are possibly the reason they are watching less.

Some use spoilers to see when a storyline they aren’t enjoying is likely to end. Others appear interested in which characters will feature and how they are going to be interacting with one another. A number claimed they enhanced their anticipation and viewing pleasure.

One respondent pointed out that an exception to wanting to know an outcome would be in the case of a “whodunit”. It’s an interesting observation, as it is clear that these are very seldom revealed in advance thus retaining the element of surprise and suspense, the ‘Who Killed Tina?’ storyline being a perfect example from 2014.

Some read spoilers to allay fears as to what a character might do and others use them as discursive currency, being the first to be able to tell work colleagues, friends and family what’s going to happen. Others read them out of fear that they will hear about the action from someone else.

Some acknowledged that nothing compares to watching the actual programme, so while they read them, spoilers cannot fully reveal how a performance will be delivered or a storyline played out on screen. Of the small percentage that don’t read them, a number claimed it ruined Coronation Street for them and some preferred to guess what would happen.

In the event that a viewer was feeling disappointed with an upcoming storyline, an impressive 80.53% (273) said they would watch anyway. 12.09% (41) indicated they would take to social media, internet message boards and fansites to complain with 8.85% (30) complaining to others in person. Such a low percentage of complainants is perhaps an indicator of viewer loyalty. In any event, disliking what is to come has a minimal impact on viewership with only 17 respondents (5.01%) indicating that they would stop watching until an undesirable story concluded.

With spoilers being consumed by the multitude, I think we can certainly anticipate their continuance. Perhaps the fact that spoilers exist at all makes unexpected twists all the more exciting when they do occur, and maybe a regular combination of the two would make for an interesting viewing experience. I'd like to express my sincere gratitude to anyone who completed the survey. I hope you have found this blog on what I find to be an intriguing phenomenon interesting, and I hope to cover other areas of my research in the near future.

By Emma Hynes
Twitter: @ELHynes

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Anonymous said...

I greatly enjoyed this presentation of your findings. Please post more! -ELK

Graeme N said...

Really interesting Emma, thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I have always assumed that there's a core audience who tune in to most episodes whatever. In the old days when there were fewer channels/ways to watch etc the show attracted up to 20m viewers in the UK. Now I assume they use spoilers and hype (think how many articles/press days/ cast interviews were used to publicise the bus crash last week) to attract a more transient viewer. I read that 8m watched one of the episodes last week (about 2m more than an average episode). So I would suggest spoilers are targeted not at the fan but at the curious non-fan. Too simple maybe.

Humpty Dumpty said...

This is an interesting insight. I wonder if the age of the respondent was taken into account. The more you surf the internet and use social media, the more likely you are to see a spoiler whether you like it or not. I surrendered to spoilers when the soap mags started screaming headlines like:'XYZ dies?'. You know damn well the '?' means no, they won't. I like spoilers because I don't have to commit 2.5 hours a week to keep up-to-date. I also don't have to kill the 'friend' who gives the end away!

George Dunning said...

I try to avoid spoilers but still end up having them shoved down my throat by trailers

Beth said...

I regularly criticize the show in it's current form, preferring the good old days of Corrie when there was less sensationalism, better continuity and top not dialogue. There were very little spoilers back then, you may have had a teaser or two in the TV Times but nothing drastic, so you watched with no idea of what was going to happen,as it should be and I'm sure that played an enormous part as to why I enjoyed it a lot better than I do now.

Interestingly, last week's crash. I watched with the family. They don't read spoilers (we live overseas) but I do and knew what was going to happen. Beth would miss the bus, Steve would run away, Sinead possibly paralyzed etc, etc.

What the rest of my family knew was Underworld staff were going on a posh outing - full stop!

When watching it together I was critical whilst they were full of ohhh's and ahhh's and even hiding behind cushions! And my youngest said that she felt quite exhausted when the credits rolled, whilst I felt, yeah, that was allright.

There was no suspense for me, nothing out of the ordinary, it was left for me to look for mistakes, holes, bad reactions, acting. Whilst they were totally caught up in the surprise and thrill of an unexpected episode!

Thanks Emma, very insightful article!

Defrost Indoors said...

Thank you for your article Emma! I admit to reading spoilers but they're so hard to avoid -- I don't blame the blogs and fansites (which rely on the press releases for news and content for their sites) but rather the studio which seems to want to lay out the storylines for the viewers several months in advance, probably just to keep the show being discussed, and they probably feel that is what viewers want. There's a big difference between "Owen's ex returns; what will she stir up?" and "Minibus crash but don't worry, everyone survives."

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