Spoiler Alert: Your Friends and Co-Workers Ruin TV More Than Social Media

Noisy Colleagues and Pals Are Worst Offenders, but Stranger Danger Is Real

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Have you ever avoided social media so friends wouldn't spoil the end of a show like 'Mad Men'?
Have you ever avoided social media so friends wouldn't spoil the end of a show like 'Mad Men'? Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Comedian and talk show host Bill Maher once characterized other people as "the problem that won't go away," and while that's a less-than-charitable assessment, anyone who's ever had a show spoiled by a friend or co-worker would say it's on the money.

Your friends/boon companions/colleagues are spoiling TV most often, according to a study commissioned by TiVo in which 63% of respondents called out that cohort. The scourge includes everything from the office drone who blurts "I can't believe they killed off Jon Snow!" at the water cooler to the meathead who reveals the final score of a ballgame you TiVo'ed for later viewing.

Perhaps because you can avoid social media more easily than you can hide from coworkers, Facebook and Twitter do far less damage. Nearly half (47%) of all respondents said they'd encountered spoilers in Facebook status updates, still a significant impact. But Twitter users come off looking pretty savvy; knowing full well that social is no place to loiter while trying to avoid spoilers, only 19% said they'd stumbled across a show-wrecker on the site.

Family members are nearly as thoughtless as your friends and colleagues; per TiVo, 43% of those who participated in the study said they'd had a plot point wrecked by an overzealous blood relative and/or spouse. This is down 1 percentage point from the 44% who said the same of family in a TiVo study a year ago -- presumably because a statistically significant number of people divorced or otherwise abandoned their spoiler-happy kin in the interim.

Meanwhile, Stranger Danger is no joke, as one-fifth of those surveyed reported that they'd overheard unbidden TV-related chitchat from total randos who just happened to be passing by. (As a child, I once saw an elderly woman fling a can of tomato paste in the direction of another old dear at a Stop & Shop, after the latter had loudly revealed who shot J.R. on "Dallas" to a stock clerk. Don't mess with Texas.)

All told, 82% of the 12,528 TiVo subs surveyed said they'd weathered at least one spoiler, despite the fact that 71% had taken steps to avoid that kind of thing. Of course, the only sure-fire preventative measure is to watch live that which you wish to remain pristine -- a solution that also works out quite nicely for the advertisers who've bought time in that particular program. After all, other than on VOD platforms, where commercial skipping is effectively impossible if networks disable fast-forwarding, live viewing offers the most ad-friendly TV environment.

For all the fuss about spoilers, many of us are becoming inured to the phenomenon, or at least sick of hearing people worry about it. Thirty-five percent of TiVo's panel said people have become too sensitive about spoilers. (If someone "ruined" HBO's "The Wire" for you by blithely chatting about Omar's death, it may be you who is in the wrong. You had seven years in which to catch up. Deal with it.)

Perhaps what we need is some kind of universal sell-by date, an interval after which a given plot twist can no longer be considered spoilable. Make it 10 days, two weeks tops, between the live air date and when you may no longer throw a fit if a co-worker emotes over the death of McDreamy or gets all misty about Don Draper's hippy-dippy sugar water epiphany. And for series finales? Three days, max.

If nothing else, at least one factoid from the TiVo study suggests that 21st century media consumers haven't completely devolved into savages. Only 3% of those surveyed said they'd deliberately spoiled a show for someone else … which translates into only about 370 people who should be sent off to purgatory, like the cast of "Lost."

Oops. Spoiler alert.

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