Earlier this week, the creators of Westworld offered to provide a full spoiler of all events and plot turns for the upcoming season 2. They claimed to do so in order to combat trolls who deliberately post spoilers in online fan fora; a small army of fans with knowledge of all plot twists could filter out such spoilers from genuine fan theories. The argument was not quite convincing and, indeed, it all turned out to be an elaborate Rickroll and part of a wider media strategy to create buzz for the show.
What does this mean?
Beyond the practical joke itself, the interesting issue is that surprise-filled series like Westworld or Game of Thrones manage to capture the attention of viewers well beyond the actual duration of an episode. As with sports, where fans spend more time discussing than actually watching games, some series manage to incite a similar level of engagement. Spoiler-anxiety is part of the broader appeal of these kinds of shows and even amounts to spoilers being weaponized or used as bribes to get out of speeding tickets. Ironically, spoilers don’t really kill the joy of watching a show, but they do ruin the anticipatory pleasure of discussing and theorizing.
Content producers are likely to develop more and more of this kind of extremely spoiler-sensitive content. Most of all, this is sure to draw massive viewership, but there may be more to gain from these levels of fan engagement. While many movies (e.g. franchise Star Wars) generate additional revenue through merchandise, producers of these kinds of series may be able to monetize their fascinated audiences’ time and attention (e.g. subtle forms of product placement or additional pay-per-view content).