It feels like excitement over the content we watch is at an all time high. With the increased push for merchandising, more intense fan culture, and the invention of ‘stans’, it feels like we are becoming more and more impatient for the stories we love to continue as time goes on. The gaps between seasons and in some cases, episodes, feels impossibly long and torturously arduous.
In the past two years, television networks have had to brace themselves for the impending threat of hackers looking for the newest episodes and scripts to leak online to an ever anticipating public. Game of Thrones faced probably the most extreme cases of leaks last season, with two full episodes being leaked to the public online before air. Netflix’s Orange is the New Black also faced this issue, after almost all of season five was leaked online after a devastating cliffhanger to close out it’s fourth season.
Hacking and leaks have become a major concern for television networks that now carry the need to up their cyber security in order to protect their intellectual property. However, this may be fruitless. In Game of Thrones’ case, one of the episodes was leaked internally from HBO. It may seem that the time between waiting for our favorite stories to pick up where they left off is getting shorter, as now the threat of leaks may expedite the production process for studios and networks. Not only this, but when content from a show or movie leaks online news and media outlets are quick to report on the leaks, driving a crowd of impatient fans to the stolen property so that they can get their fix of their favorite shows.
These media outlets often perpetuate the issue, creating two reactions among fans. There are those that jump on the leaks immediately, taking in the stolen material so that they can find out what happens next and there are those that insist on waiting for it to actually come out and respond to the news with a quick and hasty: “No spoilers!”
But, do leaks drastically hurt networks? On the surface level it seems that if a full episode or script (which is more common) leaks online it would defeat the purpose of audiences watching the movie or show when it actually comes out. In actuality, studies and show that spoilers like those revealed in leaks largely didn’t ruin the story, but in actuality were found to even improve the viewing experience. UC San Diego professor Nicholas Christenfeld conducted studies to answer the question of whether spoilers actually ruin a viewers’ interaction with stories.
His initial experiment involved having two groups read short stories and ranking them. One of the groups read the stories traditionally, and the others had the stories spoiled for them before they started reading. The group that had the stories spoiled reported enjoying the story more knowing how it ended than those who didn’t. Christenfeld states: “The point is, really we’re not watching these things for the ending. I point out to the skeptics, people watch these movies more than once happily, and often with increasing pleasure.”
In follow-up studies, Christenfeld found that knowing how a story ends may actually improve the viewing experience and raise the curtain behind the storytellers artistry. He says, “If you know the ending as you watch it, you can understand what the filmmaker is doing. You get to see this broader view, and essentially understand the story more fluently. There’s lots of evidence that this fluent processing of information is pleasurable; that is, some familiarity with a work of art enables you to enjoy it more.”
Game of Thrones faced massive leaks going into its seventh season, with images, scripts, season outlines, and even full episodes being leaked online before the network actually aired that content. Still, the seventh season of Game of Thrones was wildly successful and broke records for HBO despite the leaks. Two full episodes were leaked online before they were originally intended to be released. Still, there was no drop in viewage from home and same-night streaming audiences. Those episodes, “The Spoils of War” and “Beyond the Wall” had some of the highest viewing ratings of the season, even surpassing the season premiere in numbers of viewers.
In probably the most extreme case, Supergirl’s pilot was leaked online six months before its planned air date. This episode was not only the most viewed episode of the season, but also the most viewed episode for the show to date.
Leaks definitively have had an effect on television and streaming networks. With leaks from hackers now becoming an ever present threat in post-production and distribution for studios and networks, it’s possible that viewers can get their favorite stories by their favorite filmmakers faster than ever– despite not having the artists’ consent. Netflix struggled to respond to hackers holding season five of Orange is the New Black hostage for ransom. HBO stopped releasing ‘screeners’ —early viewings of episodes for the press—for Game of Thrones after they struggled with leaks for season five and six. Still, season 7 faced two episode leaks.
I think that leaks are relatively harmless. Those who absolutely can’t wait for new episodes and seasons to come out can scratch their itch early. Those who can and want to wait are going to do just that, as they continue to ask those who’ve seen leaks to keep their mouth shut. As for studios, it’s still too soon to tell how this affects them; though it doesn’t seem to be hurting them in a huge way. Watch TV shows as you want, whether that’s before the episode is released by the network or not. Just don’t be a dick and tell me what happens in season eight of Game of Thrones; I’m still on season two.
Mateo Flores is a second year writing for film, TV, and emerging media major who will now avoid Reddit for two reasons. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.