Monday Blog 6: Spoiler Alert – Television Revolutionized

“Spoiler Alert- Understanding Television Enjoyment in the Social Media Era” by Benjamin Brojakowski.

Brojakowski’s essay explores and synthesizes several theories relating to television use and enjoyment, seeing the evolution of television as constantly impacted by viewers; and it also considers the interactive social media tactics that viewers and television networks use to enhance viewer enjoyment.

The paratext approach adopts Jonathan Gray’s definition of paratexts as naturally occurring contents between the text, viewer and industry that create a meaning for the viewer, online reviews for a movie for instance. When the viewer relies on speculative consumption to determine which content will be of maximum enjoyment before consuming the contents, the viewer is weighing the judgment based on known information. This approach focuses what leads the audience to media consumption.

The uses and gratifications perspective evaluates the motives, factors that influenced the motives and outcomes as to why people opt for a particular media rather than a media content. Z. Papacharissi and A.M. Rubin define uses and gratifications based on the assumption that people consume media to gratify a certain need. Rubin lists five assumptions for the theory. First, people are purposive, goal-oriented, conscious consumers. Second, media does not use consumers. Third, paratexts, interpersonal factors and past experiences impact how people choose and consume media. Fourth, media competes with other forms of communication for people’s need for gratification. Last, people create more impact than media do in the process.

Enjoyment is defined as a combination of affective character dispositions and the gratification from witnessing the justification of these characters. Researchers suggest that people are able to enjoy media because of a transportation of senses from the reality to a narrative world. The transportation theory is used to explain the persuasive effects of narratives and contributes to the conceptualizing of enjoyment. Parasocial relationships are “symbolic, one-sided quasi-interactions between a viewer and a media figure” that a viewer might experience during the transportation into a narrative. The bond occurs among all age groups but most prominently among adolescents.

Flow theory provides an alternative explanation for enjoyment, particularly for cases of binge watching and playing video games. First, the task should have tangible goals and clear rules. Second, users will be able to adjust their opportunities to reach their capabilities. Third, they should be able to foresee how successful the project is through a progress report. Last, the media form should create an immersive environment where the distraction is minimum and the project is the sole objective.

All these different theories have two characteristics in common: viewers must be actively engaged in the program, and the program must be cognitively appropriate. The theories of media use and gratification apply to social media as well. Social media have been known for its parasocial relationships that users experience when following and interacting celebrities on a social media platform. Actor Daniel Wu re-posted a video of Oliver Stark on the Instagram on March 7. I commented: “Thought I was looking at Seth Rogan.” Oliver Stark liked my comment within 10 minutes. That caught me off guard and made me fond of this unknown actor, probably because I still belong to the adolescent age group.

The time-shifting technologies altered the push-environment of television media to a pull-environment. Appointment viewing no longer necessary. Viewers enjoy greater freedom to form their own viewing habits. Recording devices and streaming services prospered; audiences no longer have to be confined by the release date of a foreign film in their own countries; viewers also have more control over what content they want to be exposed to and what time to enjoy it, and that was when spoiler became known as a new problem.

Hyperserialized programming is how television producers and writers transform the viewers into binge-watchers. A story is made into many convoluted episodes and seasons by implanting suspenses from the beginning episodes. Writers can therefore employ extensive narratives to explain why they need to tell the story over a long course of programming time. Loyal viewers become binge-watchers. Fans often engage in heated discussions of the plots and characters on social media platforms, voluntarily creating paratexts for the program. Hyperserialized programs are known for high ratings and suspenseful twists.

Because of split screen viewing, the idea of television has expanded from the linear environment in the past. Whenever you go into a gym, there are always people running on the treadmill, eyes fixed on their smart phones or iPads watching shows that are primarily screened on television or the Internet. The introduction of split screen viewing also indulges the binge-watching behavior, allowing viewers to enjoy the program through a sutured experience within different digital spaces without interruption.

Spoilers indeed suggest that online impression development in nearly equal to face-to-face meetings. The credibility of a tweet from a stranger is beyond doubt. I remember watching Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete last year. (STOP reading here if you haven’t watched it and if you plan to do so!) I was among the first Chinese people watching this program, since there were no more than 3000 users that had watched it by then when I went on the Horace and Pete page on Douban. Before I got to the last episode, In the discussion panel at the bottom of the page, among the only 7 discussion threads, there was one titled “Why did Pete commit suicide?” Registered Douban users raved and ranted below that thread. Spoilers are described by tweeters as a first world problem, but in a second-world country like China, spoilers are also seen as a plague. Of course loyal viewers seek for an interactive bond to other fans in such online networking. This bond justifies their zeal for the program and encourages the behavior of continuing to watch, but spoilers severely diminish the enjoyment.

The essay establishes a solid theoretical framework for understanding the use and enjoyment of media programs, in the age of television-computer convergence.