'Look away now' - BAFTAs, spoilers and Twitter

Monday 14 February 2011, 16:51

Torin Douglas Torin Douglas is the BBC's media correspondent. Twitter: @BBCTorinD

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As I sat down to watch the BAFTAs on BBC1, I got an anguished email from a TV drama producer (and former member of the BAFTA council).

"This is ridiculous! I am about to settle down to watch the BAFTA Film Awards, on the edge of my seat, and the BBC has the results on the News website which, very foolishly, I just checked to see if anything had happened in Egypt. I think I might watch The Promise instead. At least they used to tell you to look away if you didn't want to know the football results."

You might argue that he should have known better.

The 'spoiler' is not a new problem - remember the classic Likely Lads episode when they spent all day avoiding the football scores? Websites and newspapers have long used the term 'spoiler alert' to warn people not to read on if they think their enjoyment might be ruined by a plot twist.

But new media such as Twitter and the iPlayer have given it a new dimension.

The rise of catch-up TV means more people are annoyed if results from The Apprentice or X Factor are published before they have had a chance to watch the episode.

With the rise of Twitter, more and more people are choosing to watch TV with a laptop or mobile to hand so they can engage in the debate. Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News recently blogged that he's gone back to watching programmes live, rather than time-shifted on a PVR, so he can enjoy the debate on Twitter. 

But with the BAFTAs it didn't quite work that way. At 9pm, I logged onto TweetDeck to see all the Twitter comments, and the first one alerted me that Twitter was spoiling their enjoyment of the programme. BAFTA itself had been tweeting the results as they happened, live in the Royal Opera House, two hours before the awards programme went out on BBC1.

I turned TweetDeck off - but the following morning I checked the @BAFTA Twitter feed to confirm what had happened. After revealing the wins for Helena Bonham-Carter, Geoffrey Rush, David Seidler and the Harry Potter series, @BAFTA had tweeted: "Half an hour til the show starts on BBC1!"

At 9pm, after giving away the results for animated film, rising star, adapted screenplay, cinematography, best director and leading actress, @BAFTA blithely tweeted: "Get to BBC1 for coverage of the awards - starting now!"

Why would people watch the show if they'd already had the surprises spoiled? Couldn't BAFTA have embargoed the results for all media until 9pm when the broadcast programme started? In my experience, most journalists still respect embargoes, even on Twitter. That way, Twitter followers could have actively enjoyed the debate as they do with other programmes.

As for the BBC website, my anguished drama producer was not the only one to complain about seeing the results before they were announced on BBC1.

The BBC points out that a year ago BAFTA took the decision to lift the embargo on reporting the results before the programme began, and to release the results via Twitter. It says most news media reported the awards as they were announced - and the BBC decided it should not make an exception for BBC News outlets.

That is wholly understandable - but couldn't BAFTA do more to try to keep a lid on the results until the programme starts? Or is the concept of the embargo dead in the Twitter age?

If so, we're all going to have to take a leaf out of the Likely Lads' book and avoid all media contact until the programme starts - or hope that someone warns us to 'look away now'.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I'm a fan of Twitter and what some people describe as a heavy duty user.

    Even so, there are times when Twitter-adoration deserves to be thrust into reverse. And this is one of them.

    Sometimes I just don't want to know the news 'as it happens'. Sometimes I like to suspend belief and do what Krishnan Guru-Murphy does.

    And sometimes it's quite nice to be negative about Twitter. :)


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