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Avoiding spoilers

How do you avoid spoilers in the digital age?

Avoiding spoilers

How do you avoid spoilers in the digital age?

If you’re of a certain age, you might well have seen the episode of ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’ where Bob and Terry are trying not to find out the result of an England game so that they can watch the highlights on TV that evening without knowing who won. The pair spend a Saturday afternoon dodging pubs, phone calls, newsagents and their irritating “friend” Flint trying to spoil their fun, even taking sanctuary in a church at one point to get away from score updates.

The episode was aired in 1973, but a remake in 2019 would make the challenge even more difficult, and the phenomenon of the ‘spoiler’ has only increased in these times of on-demand television where we don’t all watch a programme as its being premiered. Today, the boys would have to swerve the likes of social media, search engines and app notifications if they wanted to enjoy the highlights in ignorance. Even a Google search for ‘England football’ displays their most recent results at the top of the page, and with club football it’s as simple as typing ‘Liverpool’.

I’m reminded of this because I face a similar challenge over the next couple of days. Tomorrow night, I’m going to see our Technical Director Darren trying to make us laugh for charity, which means I’ll miss the 2019 Mercury Music Prize show on BBC Four. I’m not normally that interested in this award, but it’s a particularly strong year in my opinion, with two of my current favourite bands among the nominees in Idles and Fontaines D.C.

I’d like to watch the awards on Friday on BBC iPlayer, ideally without knowing who won them, but that’s going to be difficult. With my job, simply abstaining from the internet and social media for 24 hours isn’t really an option!

I’m bound to need to use Facebook at some point on Friday, and the problem is that I follow so many bands and music websites on social media, I’m sure to see the result. The main issue is the page for the Idles fan club AF Gang (which I’ve written about previously), which will no doubt be awash with posts if they win, or probably even if they don’t. I may just have to ‘snooze’ that group, along with the pages of the two bands I mentioned, and those of fellow nominees Slowthai and Foals, who I also follow. I’ll have to go through all my followers and consider temporarily shushing any music zines likely to share news of the awards too.

Even having done that though, there’s a possibility another band I follow might post congratulating the winners, or a friend might comment on it (especially if the uber-cool The 1975 win instead of my much dorkier preferences). Perhaps I’ll resort to the method of holding a piece of paper across the screen and lowering it slowly – a tactic normally reserved for looking at pictures of large spiders with trepidation.

I’ll have to make sure I don’t absent-mindedly visit the BBC homepage or any other news sites. If some major news story breaks on Friday, I’ll probably go through the day without knowing about it. Then, of course, there’s always the possibility that someone could be a complete ‘Flint’ and just tell me who won. Don’t be that person!

If somebody on TV lets a spoiler slip, it can result in complaints and is almost treated as a breach of broadcasting standards, but this generally only applies to films and TV series, not the likes of sport contests, awards or anything else that can be reported as news. For years, when BBC News was aired just before Match of the Day, the newsreader would advise to “look away now” if you didn’t want to see the scores, which would be displayed on the screen in silence. In recent years, this has been replaced by the suggestion to “leave the room” while a rundown of the big results is shown, complete with video footage and voiceovers.

That suggests that what I’m doing with the Mercury Music Prize is probably now a bit old-fashioned, but we’ll see how it goes. Without wanting to be a spoiler myself, hopefully I’ll have a bit more luck than the Likely Lads did in the end!

John Murray

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