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A Study On Media And Audiences Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5187 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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With the coming of year 2010, the definition of “media” itself has changed - the term of media now applies to many new communication technologies and many traditional media format has applied new technology to meet the needs of audiences. Thus technology and innovation have expanded media options for the public and audience, while the audience itself has changed in this new media age. The calling into question their role in democracy since many of these new media are essentially not “mass” any more (Sunstein, 2001). In light of this, “media use” should be re-conceptualized to include active and interactive, and not only passive, behavior on the part of the audience. The aim of this essay is to answer the question “In what ways do changing media formats and technologies present challenges to how audiences have been traditionally conceptualized?” author will answer the question by investigate the recent literatures and find out what researchers recently consider the new audience and new media environment. The essay will go through the issues include the new media environment which focus on internet/online media; the notion of new audience - whether the notion of audience has been changed, a comparison between historical audience and new audience will be conduct in the article; some audience theories will also be addressed in the essay such as reception theory and audience active theory, to take a look into these theory may be useful to analyse whether this theory still match the today's situation; challenge of new audience research will be the last part of the article, in this part, author will take an analysis based on the research work done by Livingstone (2004). It shows the challenges facing by audience and media research before and in the new age. By analyse those issues related with new media and new audience, there may be an answer to meet the question which be raised in the aim of the essay.

Changing media environment

We are in the midst of a digital revolution that is giving way to a “new information environment” (Bimber, 2003).

We are facing the world with a moving target as once-new media become familiar and eve-never media emerge. The common feature of those new media is internet based. The internet made everything possible and changed people's behavior after it emerged. Manuel Castells has argued that the flows dominate contemporary life in his book The Information Age, ‘our society is constructed around flows, flows of capital, flows of information, flows of technology, flows of organizational interaction, flows of images, sounds, and symbols' (Castells, 2000: 442) the emerging of new media or the new format of media accelerate the liquidity of the world.

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For media user, you can whether read news on newspaper on the way to work or open the mobile phone and connect to the internet and read the news you are most interested in and check your email box anytime you want. You can also whether check the program schedule on newspaper and waiting for the program broadcast on television or just open your laptop and go to BBC website and watch the favorite drama anytime and any episode. When your tutor suggest s you to purchase a text book, you can whether go the high street book store or just go to Amazon.co.uk to buy a book in relevant cheap price.

Those available choices indicate that the media environment has been changed, Producer like government, business, broadcast institution or press industry are taking advantage of internet and new technologies as it can be more globalised and fast disseminate to audiences in every corner of the world. It's different from traditional mass media but a more interactive media, most importantly, converging with new media to create a complex media-rich and liquid environment.

Online media environment

With no doubt, we are in the internet age now. Even in the media industry, almost every traditional mass media format has a new internet based version, online broadcast, online journal, online TV, online newspaper, online news, online games, online advertising etc. it shows both producer and audience are highly demand on the new technology based media because of the common features of those newly medium have such as convenient, easy to access and of course interactivity.

“Web 2.0” is one of most important technology in newly internet space or cyberspace. Pew gave a definition of Web 2.0 - the ability of people to use a range of information and communication technology as a platform to express themselves online and participate in the commons of cyberspace - is often heralded as the next phase of the information society. (Pew, 2007: 2)

Web 2.0 enhanced the interactivity of audience when they use online media and made them more active when they consumption news or other information. The example of famous media website which takes advantage of web 2.0 is www.youtube.com. People can not only watch video clip on it but also they can rating and leave comments on it. The hot video clips on home page usually depend on the rate of click. Moreover, people can upload their own video to the website and share the video with friends or people all over the world. At this time, audiences convert to producers.

The chart below presents the result of a survey conducted in 2004 for investigate whether people prefer online or offline media to obtain information. From the chart we may find out the advantages of online media.

Sources: Frank Magid Association, Online Publisher Association, “Multichannel Media Brands,” 2004. www.online-publisher.org

Although the data are gathered in 5 years ago, it dose shows the advantages of online media, people can find what they want easy and quick on internet rather than search on a news paper or television. However people in 2004 feels that use offline media are more enjoyable and satisfying. It indicates that traditional media cannot be replaced by the online media. One thing need to be mentioned is people consider both online and offline media are the same when they consider which is more reliable and trustworthy. It is different in my country, in China; most people prefer trust online media rather than offline media controlled by government.

News media

Take news consumption as an example. People traditionally obtain news and information from newspaper and TV News broadcast channel. But nowadays, the internet version of newspaper becomes more and more adoptable for audience. JOEY KA-CHING CHAN and LOUIS LEUNG (2005:7) suggested ‘online news media distinguish themselves from traditional media in a number of ways: they are interactive; they offer convenience, which embodies easy access, searchable features and the ability to cross-reference through hyperlinking; and they provide multimedia features.' Being interactive is a important feature for new media, audience are not only passive receive messages but engage with the news event and trying to explore what happening behind news by search related news on the internet. Matt Carlson (2007) mentioned the rise of online news search engines allows users to set their own parameters governing the section of news according to personal preference. Matt took Google News as an example in his article and states that Google news always reports a story from different side of view which may force the authority to be more democracy. ‘I want this to be a force for a democracy.... One of the things that makes us objective is we show all points of view. Even if you disagree with one, we give you both - the majority and the minority point of view. The ones you don't agree with are education. It's nice to know what the other side is thinking. You'll see left-leaning ones as much as much as you see right-leaning ones. Frankly, the software doesn't know the difference between left and right, which is good.' (quoted in Kramer, 2003: n.p.) it just like King (1998: 26) argued that interactivity not only describe the high level of control and interactive with content but also present the increasing interactive with news producer such as feedback availability. Audience nowadays becomes more and more powerful in this new media environment.

Audiences in historical perspective

Before discuss the challenge of conceptualize new audience, it is necessary to take a look into audiences in history. Marie Gilespie (2005: 14) gives us a brief introduction of this perspective. He suggests in most research about media and communication in twentieth century, the researcher usually focus on today's media and today's audiences with the popular medium like television. However, the idea of the audience can be traced back to ancient times. And Marie think it is important to learn the lesson from history when something can be similar or entirely new ‘In history, audience means a face-to-face audience in the presence of a communicator or entertainer, whether at a political meeting, the theatre or a concert' (Marie 2005: 14) Denis McQuail (1997: 3) use classical Graeco-Roman audience definition to identify the audiences feature today:

  1. Planning and organization of viewing and listening, as well as of the performances themselves
  2. Events with a public and popular character
  3. Secular content of performance-for entertainment, education and vicarious emotional experiences
  4. Voluntary, individual acts of choice and attention
  5. Specialization of roles of authors, performers and spectators
  6. Physical locatedness of performances and spectator experience

We can find that some of the features of Graeco-Roman audience are similar with today's audience in mass media environment. The only obviously difference is mass media eliminated the limitation of co-location. Even in today's internet media background, some of the features above still match the today's audience, that is, no matter media environment changes, there are some characteristics will not change. This not means there will be no challenge to conceptualized new audience in new environment based on new technology. The aim of discussing the historical media audience is to find the link between history and nowadays society. Although the environment and technology has changed a lot, there are still many common features maintained from ancient time to mass media age and from mass media age to new media age.

Changing audiences

‘From a coach potato to cybernauts' is the title of Eugenia Siapera(2004)'s article. The author analyse the change of television audiences to online audience. The article focuses on the broadcaster's website such as BBC Channel to investigate the relationship of audience online and offline (TV broadcast). It is the fact that people gradually adopt into the new media environment. And it begins to change the notion of audience. Siapera (2004: 15) suggested the notion of audience has been expanded by the inter-media. The audience has been hitherto most interactive in the digital media age. (Rob cover 2006: 16) ‘Coach potato' usually describe people who always sitting behind television and watch TV program. This image usually presents more passive way of people receive message from producer. However audience becomes more and more active. The new technology offers different platform for audience to interact with other audiences or the producer. Take fandom as example, Audiences nowadays can easily form or find a fan club on website such as blogging and forum, more over the broadcast's website usually design and develop the certain function to allow audience track their favorite star or program (Siapera 2004: 09) For example, ‘EastEnders (the BBC's soap opera and one of the most developed programme sites: http://www.bbc.co.uk/eastenders/) has regular updates on what is happening in the soap, a chat room, newsletter, message board, and voting on what should happen to characters/storylines.' The producer may be influenced by the audience opinions to adjust the storyline or what happened next to gain more audiences support. It is what I mentioned before that audience can interact and influence the producer in the new media age. The channel established by producer on internet made audiences more easily to send their feedback to the producer. The reason why producer take audiences opinions serious is because in today's world, the audience can be seen as consumer, ‘I suggested, is adopted by those who conceptualize the audience as a market' (Livingstone 1998a) and the profitability of program is only standard to justify whether it should be continue or stop. Some American drama can continue make and broadcast for many seasons such as ‘Friends' but some are not. ‘The ultimate power of internet fandom is in controlling the actual life and death of a series. For fans of a show, that power is usually in the hands of a network executive or, for a syndicated series, a production company.' (Victor Costello and Barbara Moore 2007: 16) It depends on whether there are many audiences like it or not. It again, indicates that audience being more and more powerful which can influence both producer and context.

Reception under new media environment

The phenomena stressed above may challenge the traditional reception theory in mass media age. Reception theory points out that ‘Audience interpretations or decoding have been found to diverge depending on viewers' socio-economic position, gender, ethnicity, and so forth, while the possibilities for critical or oppositional reading are anticipated, enabled or restricted by the degree of closure encoded into the text or genre.'(Marie Gillespie 2005: 40) Audience reception research towards television study revealed parallel connections between the conventions of television and viewers decoding strategies like the soap opera viewer builds up an understanding of the characters, puzzles over the secrets, eagerly anticipates the cliff-hanger, guesses the outcome of a subplot, recalls when appropriate the significant events from past episodes, etc., all in accordance with the conventions of the genre (Livingstone, 1998). It just like Cultural theorist Stuart Hall suggested in his theory of encoding and decoding. He argued that audiences not just passive accept text but people can create their own mean of the text and the communication process should not be linear model such sender-message-receiver model rose by Shannon. The following chart is Halls Encoding and Decoding model, in the model, hall stressed the meaning of a text is not inherent within the text itself, but is created within the relationship between the text and the reader.

We may find that even the hall's model neglected the relationship between sender and receiver. As I mentioned before, the audience nowadays can influence the producer. So I suggest that today's communication process is a loop which every element in the process can be influenced by other elements. And nowadays, with the internet developed, the relationship between the text and the reader may convert to between the text and reader and other readers. Take times online as example, reader may write comments towards specific news and share the comment with other reader. The interactions within those readers which may influence the result by interpret the meaning of text.

The two step flow theory also has been challenged by new media age as the process of decentralized the authority. The internet enhanced the availability of information flow. If people may express their opinion on the public space on the internet, Twitter can be a good example; audiences are more and more interested in tracking what other people's point of views. At the same time the power of opinion leader becomes more and more declined. It is one of the reason why Twitter and youtube.com being successful.

Audience Selectivity and Involvement in the New Media Environment

With no doubt, the newer media environment enables audience to be more active, it not only means that audiences have muti-channels on the new cable television but also suggests that audiences nowadays have a wide range of medium choice. Perse (1990: 3) argues there are two dimensions of audience activity. The first one is a qualitative component and describes type of activity. It includes selectivity, evolvement, and utility. Audiences can easily target what they want to receive from the new media such as internet. Take online news as example, www.bbc.co.uk allows audience to customize their own home page. People can choose the type of news or information they may interest in and put them together on the home page of BBC website like the picture below:

It has been changed a lot from traditional ‘one to many' model to ‘one to one' model which means highly customized and personalized design based on the cookie technology and web 2.0. The new media technology can help you to filter what you may not like and try to enhanced personal relevance with their audiences. And audiences become more selective and evolve with the context they received. Livingstone (2004: 6) suggested that the new media environment expended the range of issue and arguments in ‘active audience' theory. Audiences or the media user become more active which means they are more selective, self-directed. Can new media environment blurry the boundary of being a producer and receiver.

Changing relationship between audiences and producers

A growing number of ordinary citizens are actively producing media content, challenging these traditional notions. We have seen an unprecedented level of citizen participation in media content-making, with the prevalence and use of blogs, chat rooms, forums, and citizen journalism (Bowman & Willis, 2005). The “former audience,” a term coined by Dan Gillmor (2006), is now actively participating in content generation for a greater variety of media on a scale we have never seen before.

Those large numbers of people are able to be more involved in the news and content making process itself. Typical media use is more active and interactive than it has been in the days when a handful of companies controlled content and dissemination. Consequently, the once distinct roles of “the elite producers of content and the mass consumers of content” are shifting, and the “distinction between producers and consumers of content” is blurring (Howard, 2004, p.11). A Pew study found 57% of teens who use the Internet create content online (Pew, 2005). People use digital media to share their favorite news and information with others, by emailing or posting on other sites. Until May of 2008, youtube.com and facebook.com ranked 3rd and 4th most visited website on internet. This information indicates audience keen on produce their own video or context on internet and express themselves which also means there has been a shift in power from large media institution to ordinary people.

Challenging of audience study in new media age

Livingstone (2004: pointed out three main challenges which audience research facing for recent age. Those challenges include the gap between what people say and what people do in real life and the unclearly relationship between text and reader, for example the reception theory and the debate on the process of encoding and decoding and also the question of media effects which may influence audiences. Furthermore, the demographic factor should be considered in audience research just like other social science - diversified audience from different demographic background may interpret the same message differently. Those challenges have been existed in mass media age. The question is dose the challenge will be modified in new media or their will be some new challenge towards internet/online media age? Livingstone (2004) gives us the answer in his article called the ‘challenge of changing audience' he suggests that all the old challenges towards mass media research still exist, and in some extent the challenges has been magnified in today's internet media background.

It is more and more difficult to find out what online audience practices in their private space such as their bedroom. What they said on online chatting room may totally different with their own behavior in real life. This type of real practices or experiences is hard to record compare with to investigate the audience in a public space such as Movie Theater. Even to research family television experiences in audience's living room is more achievable than to investigate the online audience as Livingstone argues that online audience and online experience is more personal and private. It leads to the difficulties when conduct observation and interview research. Despite the issue of privacy, the cookie may be a good tool to track online audiences behavior when they surfing on the internet. It may track what part or type of website are most frequently being click by online user, this technology now being widely used in website design, such as www.amazon.com, the most famous online book retailer, customized the home page when people login to the website. There will be some book on the suggestion list which based on you pervious practice like keyword scan or the book you being purchase.

The second challenge raised by Livingstone is about the relationship between text and reader. He suggested when this challenge met the online media environment, it brings both practical and theoretical problem. Not like data collected from traditional mass media, new media researcher need to process uncountable data gathered from internet to analyse the relationship between the text and the audiences. In addition, large portion of data are temporary and mean less. More over the notion of text itself has been modified in some extent in online environment. For most of online user (include online media researcher), they have no idea with the hypertext. It is the source of the online content, producer or website designer develop the online world by this hypertext rather than the text we familiar with in real life. Again, the blurring of producer and audience also can be seen as a challenge to research in to the relationship between the text and receiver as the notion of receiver itself has been changed.

The last point draw by Livingstone is about moral panic related with online media such as the question about whether internet will result harm to young people or children. This challenge has been inherited from television age. Researchers tried to identify the harm towards young audience caused by the violent movie, TV program, comics or other threatens factors. ‘At present, these moral panic centre on the internet, with anxiety expressed about violent, stereotyped, commercially exploitative or pornographic content and about the reinforcement of individualistic, lazy, prejudice, uncritical or aggressive actions.' (Gillespie 2005: 12-13) Compare with traditional media, internet is more accessible for any resource on the virtual world. It is the reason why some researchers prefer to ban the online media rather than to take an in-depth research towards it. Take online game in China as an example. The famous MMORPG World of Warcraft is quite popular within Chinese player. 5 million accounts have been created in this online game in Chinese mainland. Many young people spent much time on playing online game in the virtual world. This phenomena draws socialist attention, they worries about those young people may be affected by the violence game like World of Warcraft, however most of them just want ban this online game in China without doing any research on other related area to investigate why young people addicted to this game. Some so called ‘psychologist' even use electric shock to ‘help' those young online game addicts.

Doubtless, challenges faced by new media research can be trace back to history, however some new problems gradually out and beginning to be addressed (Hine 2000)


We are now in the liquid world. The new information environment, enabled by digital technology (internet), has changed the relationship between audience and media. Although the new audience still maintain some features from traditional audience, some new features of audience has been addressed by new media researcher. Audiences are becoming less passive and more in control of the use of media platform. They can be more selective and evolved with new media - they can decide when, where and what type of the information they need to engages with. Audience now my decoding context better while they share their comments with other audience, also if they want, audience can convert to producer and create their own content on cyberspace. The classical audience theory need to be modified to suit the new environment such as the encoding and decoding process, as the audience becomes more powerful than ever before, they can influence the producer and messages producer created that is the communication process in new media age should pay more attention the interactive between producer and audiences. In addition, the two-step flow model has been challenged in online environment as audience nowadays are less influenced by opinion leader but peer review on internet offered by other audience. In the new media environment, the challenges, both old and new problems, which media researcher facing still exist. It is difficult for researcher to record online audiences' practice and their experiences since the privacy of online behavior. In addition the new model of text - hypertext becomes a challenge for explore the relationship between text and receive in new media environment. Moreover some researchers consider the online media can harm for young people and been a threat to society. It leads them to be more reluctant to do more complex research into this area. The analysis of the issue in this article suggests that even if most features of audience and media which addressed in past research still suit today's situation, the changes in media technology and format do cause the challenges about how we conceptualize audiences.


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