Rules of Spoilering

Aired = News / Casting = News / Storyline = Spoiler.


The Daily Mail’s much maligned article in which it revealed the eventual winner of The Bachelorette puts the topic of Spoiling back in the spotlight.

Over the years I’ve copped plenty of criticism for supposedly Spoiling storylines -thankfully not for some time, despite not really changing much at my end.

But it has taken some time to arrive at what I deem to be appropriate Dos and Dont’s in writing about Television online. It’s still a work in progress as we navigate a changing landscape….

AIRED = NEWS / UNAIRED = SPOILER (*but there are exceptions)
My rule of thumb is once something has aired it falls under News. As a TV website you want to react to content, both as author and reader. Sadly, one can’t wait for every individual to have viewed something on their PVR. If it hasn’t aired it’s probably a Spoiler. It was Eurovision that summed this up for me, taking place in Europe early on Sunday mornings and blasted all over news reports all day. I didn’t file a thing until after SBS had aired it.

* the exceptions to this include when the network itself mucks up: like the time The Block scoreboard was on the back of a truck travelling down the road. Or when Block auction results are published accidentally by a real estate site (that hasn’t happened for a while). Or when a network accidentally uploads the wrong clip revealing a reality outcome. Such things are in the public domain and become the News themselves, all bets are off.

If we still think of Drama as 3 Acts (and I do) being Set Up / Conflict / Resolution, then Act I is fair game in reportage. It’s like reading the back of the DVD cover. You want to know what the show is about to make an informed decision about whether it is to your liking. In The Beautiful Lie, Anna Ivin tells us in the opening scene she will be dead by the end of the story. So that’s not a Spoiler. Intimate details of how we get there are definitely Spoilers. Sometimes Publicity Releases divulge too much. On those occasions, I usually let the network wear it. If I’m feeling generous I might choose to edit it out. The difference is a media kit that provides a full synopsis as review notes, and not meant for public consumption.

I will often discern between a major spoiler and minor spoiler for my readers, including in the “excerpt” on the home page. This helps you decide whether to click on a story or hold off. Usually a minor spoiler means there is something that refers to a storyline or character.


As a TV news website, information on actors coming and going from shows constitutes casting news, even where it means an actor is leaving a long-running role. How they depart is considered storyline and is a Spoiler.

In these online days it’s a nightmare to satisfy East Coast readers without upsetting West Coast readers who are up to 3 hours behind during summer. There are no easy answers here and it sort of depends on the story as to whether it needs immediate publication. These days news sites such as Daily Telegraph, News.com.au, The Age and Guardian are often publishing major news, such as a Reality winner, minutes after they occur. It doesn’t make much sense for a dedicated TV site to hold off the same news. As each story is also sent out via Twitter, I often send out reminders that results are about to be published. Audience numbers, and site traffic, also favour East Coast.

I’m often asked about why the home page includes a photo and headline that some consider to be a Spoiler. The reasons are primarily related to Search and SEO / Google. TV Tonight has an archive of over 40,000 posts and is used by journos, industry, students and TV fans. Publishing every story as Reality Winner  Announced / Major Death in Soap etc. just doesn’t work. With that theory I could still never publish “Julie Goodwin wins MasterChef” -despite it being published everywhere else within minutes.

Sometimes news, especially from overseas, becomes so big it is published far and wide and impossible to avoid. You know the sort, Dr. McDreamy is killed off in Grey’s Anatomy, for example. On those situations I may file the news but with clear warnings and no suggestive photos. That way you can make the decision as to whether you participate or not. Not much point in filing the news 3 months later when it airs here.


Having educated TVT readers that Aired = News the worst thing I can do is chop and change the approach. Consistency means you can adjust your viewing and site use accordingly. It has definitely become more complicated since Netflix and others are dropping entire seasons in an instant. Would I file a season finale story the very next day? Unlikely. Another challenge is filing Game of Thrones stories, when not everybody has Foxtel. As you can see, it’s treacherous trying to work out where that line in the sand lies. Still, no matter how much you signpost and stick to a plan, there will always be someone miffed and ready to tell you why…

Lastly, was Daily Mail right to publish its photos of Sam and Sasha ahead of the finale?

Unequivocally, no. The storyline was yet to play out.

If the network had actually mucked up, and in my view it didn’t, then at the very least it should have carried clear warnings so the reader could make up their own mind.

21 Responses

  1. Thanks for clarifying this David. Not having Fox/Stan/Presto etc and not often buying the dvd sets, I rely on the shows finally getting to FTA. I don’t read the show sites and certainly not the pay tv section on this site. I remember years ago reading a piece on the SMH site about Sons of Anarchy, thinking it was a recommendation and they spilled about one of the main characters getting killed – completely spoilt that whole season till he copped it.

  2. Hate spoilers and heads up if you are a Walking Dead fan there are a few major US spoilers about today’s episode floating around so you may want to avoid social media if you plan on watching tonight.

  3. Where does Gogglebox fit in the above categories? Why do you always highlight the best lines before it being on channel 10. Not everyone has or uses pay tv, if you always going to do this article, post it on Friday. I hate seeing the headline Best Gogglebox lines: when I scroll down the page.

    1. I would prefer the Gogglebox article not be posted till Friday but I get why its posted on Thursday. I just avoid the article when its posted till I’ve seen the ep. The thing is this week I didn’t read the Googlebox article at all. I simply forgot about it because by the time it aired on ten and I watched it, its no longer a new post.

    2. Seriously? You don’t have/use pay TV but you “hate” seeing a headline in the Pay TV section? Are you not able to just not click on the link to the full article?

      Bet you’re really furious about all those GoT and Wentworth spoilers since they haven’t aired on FTA yet.

  4. Good read! This article just highlights for me as a viewer that the internet is global and unfortunately free to air networks don’t see that when it comes to overseas content. As an Australian viewer every overseas show will be spoiled by spoilers because we’re forced to watch it on delay. Can’t see why they don’t adopt the TVNZ on demand concept where they have an express from the US section where they post them online as soon as aired in the USA and then air on tv at a later time.

  5. An enjoyable read David.
    I learnt about McDreamy via Facebook. I’m a fan of their page so my own fault for learning about it early.
    In regards to GOT I was a late recruit so knew knew of no spoilers (even I knew none of the characters) until the last season when I caught up. It was a friend who spoilt it for me in my Facebook newsfeed. As I didn’t have Foxtel I had to wait to watch the season in full after then fact. I was gutted that I knew the season cliffhanger before I started to watch it. The joys of Australia being limited in being able to access shows via iTunes etc.
    We do what we can to avoid spoilers but sometimes it can’t be helped. The Bachelorette Facebook fans on Thursday night who lived outside VIC and NSW kept complaining about knowing the outcome because fellow fans the leaked the result. I believe if you don’t want to know the outcome then avoid social media…

  6. Nice write up David, with people sometimes PVRing whole seasons before they start watching then IMO it’s up to them to avoid spoilers, if a movie or show has been out for months or years they too bad.

    Some shows I like knowing what is coming, but not many. Most shows I avoid actively finding spoilers, if I read something before I have a chance to catch up then too bad, I’ll live.

    Spoiler alert in the next Star Wars movie the force awakens!

  7. A very well considered and thoughtful piece David, I know we my have some disagreements about other things but that seems like a reasonable and consistent approach to spoilers, even though I watch a lot of PVR and DVD stuff delayed from first broadcasting I have never really been badly burnt by the TV tonight site, and find that the timely delivery of information (especially about timeslot shenanigans by FTA commercial TV programmers) is very helpful to my enjoyment of TV and far outweighs the ‘risk’ of being a little spoiled on the rare occasion.

  8. McDreamy is dead!? Argh! You should’ve said that there were spoilers in this article. My life is ruined.

    Actually, I think your rules are very reasonable and, more importantly, clear and consistently applied.

    I also agree with Uncle Pete. I prefer not to know spoilers but they won’t stop me from watching a good drama.

  9. A good read David. Whilst your self-imposed rules are (perhaps) not perfect at least you stick to them so your readers become educated on your style and can make adjustments. For instance, I’m a GOT fan, but I’m also in the position of not being able to watch the programs until they are available from my local video rental store. So, for 12 months I tread the internet avoiding anything to do with the current/past season of GOT lest I be spoiled. I certainly go nowhere near the lower end of the the daily rags as their intent is well known. :~~~~~ on the Daily Mail and its ilk.

    Your system works; simple as that. With your hints I can avoid what would be for me GOT spoilers quite easily… thank you.

  10. For me. there is no such thing as a spoiler. After all, in the end it is TV and therefore ultimately unimportant. I will still watch a show/sporting event even if I know how it ends.

    Besides, the end of a show is only a minute part of it. I believe (as much as I hate this term’s overuse in crappy “reality” shows nowadays) that it is the journey that is important, not the destination.

  11. You actually have to go out of your way to trick people into reading something they don’t want to that will spoil them. And that is what people hate. As long as you put the show title in the headline and the information in the body, people can choose not to read it if they haven’t seen the relevant episode yet. If it has key details about what happens in before it is aired, they you need to give a spoiler warning indicating that because that is unexpected. And you need to allow enough time or space for people to look away or hit the mute button.

    “Daily Mail Spoils Bachelorette” isn’t a spoiler, it’s a warning to avoid media coverage until you have seen the ending if you don’t want to know.

  12. Thanks David! Cool story.

    I personally have a fun time really scrutinising promos for reality tv to see if the editors are good enough to not show/show people who might be up for elimination etc. The Block is good for the game, working out who the judges are talking about on the room reveal promos, based on what you can see in the background…..
    Ok, maybe I’m just a big loser.

  13. After having too many things spoiled I think people generally need to steer clear of media when things matter to them. I have a media blackout on Eurovision day (except for this year when I could see it play out live). I know it’s too easy to hear the winner on the radio or TV news updates, see it in a subject line in my inbox, or catch it on Facebook, so they all get a wide berth. If I haven’t been able to watch a reality show on the night due to social engagements, I make sure I watch it first thing in the morning and stay off news sites until I know who was sent home.

    The problem does come with cases like the Daily Mail, and the accidental spoilers that have crept in for things like Masterchef on Facebook, because we don’t reasonably expect that information will be leaked early.

    I think our lack of fast tracking is also a problem. I had the deaths of Will on The Good Wife,…

  14. Once again an interesting read! These rules help to navigate the site.
    P.S I didn’t know McDreamy died until I watched it, but knew something big was going to happen (I avoided details but not the show that was affected) Amazingly true.

    1. I don’t know how you managed to avoid that. I couldn’t. It was plastered everywhere.

      When you look at 7s fast track fiasco I don’t think they learnt anything from McDreamy’s death. I’m fully expecting some major unavoidable spoilers to leak regarding the final season on downton abbey which 7 have ruined for viewers by delaying till next year.

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