- Audience Issues of Public Concern
An alternative research approach can help identify the issues and problems that shape the thinking of mass media audiences, in addition to the basic information about them. By adding values such considering mass media as an addiction; as socially atomizing audiences; influencing behaviour; an implicating media technology; and as a minority group, it would be possible to understand an audience’s thoughts.
- 1a. Media as an Addiction: If the audience were to spend most of their time before a mass media like the television, video games, computers and the Internet, they become susceptible to addiction; especially children, because of which, they dissociate from reality, reduce social contacts, diverge from education, and ignore healthy practices.
- 1b. The mass audience and social atomization: When mass audiences are segregated as isolated individuals, there is a strong belief that they are irrational, lack normative self- control, and are vulnerable to manipulation. They lack national cohesion.
- 1c. Audience behaviour as active or passive: The mass media is known for its negative influence and is the main cause for audiences becoming passive. They indulge in escapism and ignore social activities under some pretext.
- 1d. Manipulation or resistance: It was viewed as an object of manipulation and control; a tool that creates an obstinate audience. However, an audience research emphasized that audiences were inclined to follow their social and cultural roots that protected them from external influences, and helped them in their autonomy in choice and response to what they received.
- 1e. Minority audience rights: There is a strong view that mass media works against the interests of small and minority audiences. An audience
research project recommends that mass media should address the interests of minority groups by categorizing them under gender, political dissent, locality, taste, age, and ethnicity, to name a few
- 1f. The implications of new media technology: New technology could raise a number of questions (Livingstone, 2003); One; it could cause further fragmentation and atomization of audiences, two; it might introduce new interactive interventions that could compensate for older forms of shared experience, and three; develop more options that increases shared interests that could lead to greater freedom and choice.
- Types of Audience
Audiences can be either those who stimulate an appropriate supply of content wherein the media responds to the needs of a large society, community, social group or a target group; or an audience created by the media and kept mesmerized by the lure of new technology, such as film, radio or television, or the attraction of additional channels. It is here that the media continuously develop and hold new audiences as a result of which, the distinction between the two types of audiences become indistinguishable. Therefore, the theoretical distinction between receiver-and sender-created demand can help in mapping out differentiating audiences.
- The Audience as a Group or Public
Today, those who read local newspapers or listen to community radio stations can be viewed as a social group because, they share at least one significant social/cultural identifying characteristic; a common space. The Local media can contribute significantly to the sense of awareness and belonging in a community, environmental and social activities (Janowitz, 1952, and Stamm, 1985). Similarly, newspapers and magazines can shape thoughts and opinions. Take for example the media that militate against the formation of audiences as groups and publics like the totalitarian government-monopolized media. Today, however, many new media have opened up new opportunities for very small audiences based on their needs and identity.
- The Gratification Set as Audience
The term ‘gratification set’ refers to multiple possibilities, and multiple possibilities exist for audiences to react to media-related interest, need or preference. While the audience as ‘public,’ require a wide range of media needs and interests, unity is derived from the ‘gratification set’ that is identified with audiences’ particular needs or type of needs. Instead of each public (whether based on place, social class, religion or party) having their own dedicated medium, popular newspapers and magazines have catered to a diverse range of specific, but overlapping audience interests. With different type of mediums such as films, books, magazines, radio, and phonogram to name a few, packaging their potential audiences with a variety of inputs, the information is differentiated and ‘customized,’ to create a collective identity despite some shared social-demographic characteristics. Research in ‘media uses and gratifications’ has shed light on audience demand and the way they need to be structured. The motivations expressed for choice of media content and the ways in which this content is interpreted and evaluated reveals a consistent structure of demand.
- The Medium Audience
This version of the audience concept is represented by those who are inclined by choice to a particular type of medium, such as a television audience or movie-going public. They are not difficult to locate, and are close to the idea of a ‘mass audience.’ Such audiences show little differentiation, except in terms of a subjective affinity and relative frequency or intensity of use. Therefore, competition between different media for audience and advertising income is intense. The ‘medium audience’ is an important concept for those who want to use the media for purposes of advertising and other campaigns.
- Audience as Defined by Channel or Content
Here, the identification of the audience as the reader, viewer or listener of a particular book, author, film, newspaper title or television channel and program is easily identifiable. There are no hidden dimensions of group relations or psychological variables of motivation that need to be measured. This group of audience follow consistent market thinking and are candidates for a particular media product.
- Questions of Audience Reach
Perhaps the least problematic group of audiences are those under the ‘ratings’ category. Media providers need to know the extent of their media reach to plan their finance or strategy. This group of audiences create a strong vested interest and are referred to as ‘canonical audiences’ by Biocca (1988b: 127). They too, belong to the body of theatre and cinema influencers, and are referred to as identifiable and attentive ‘spectators’. Having such an audience is necessary for the survival of the media organizations.
The basic features of audience reach; derived from the work of the Belgian researcher Roger Clausse (1968) is divided into five layers of communication in broadcasting. The outer band or layer represents the unlimited potential for the reception of broadcasts. The second band indicates the realistic maximum limits which apply to reception; the third band identifies the actual level of media reach; this is usually measured by sales, admission and subscription figures, surveys and audience ratings, and so on. The fourth band relates to the quality of attention, degree of impact and its potential effect. Here, only a small percentage of the actual audience behaviour can ever be measured, while the rest is an extrapolation or guesswork. Therefore, there is a high degree of ‘wastage’ in mass communication, even though it may not worry in terms of cost to the broadcaster.