DURATION: 8 hours
BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE
We all have experience as media audiences. Children and adults both spend a significant amount of their time each day engaged in media and communications activities. A common assumption has been that an audience is a homogeneous group of passive individuals who will interpret a text in the same way. More accurately, there are two main ways of studying media audiences. The first is as consumers of media products, or what the media and communications industry describes as ‘target audiences’. The second is based on reception theory, where audiences are seen as active participants in reading and interpreting media and information texts.
Target audiences are groups of readers, viewers or listeners defined by specific characteristics such as age, income, gender or interests. This is a specific group for whom media and other organizations develop content and shape messages. For example, advertisers are very concerned about buying time or space that will provide them with access to a specific demographic or target audience. In the television industry, for example, advertisers will buy commercial time slots from a network during a particular programme, if that programme is attracting the audience they want to reach.
While we can be seen as a target audience for the media, every time we see or hear a media text our response is based on our individual social knowledge and the experiences we bring to a text. When we receive messages or information from the media, we interpret it through our personal ideology and values.
It is also very possible, however, that we actually negotiate the meaning we take from a text, accepting some elements and rejecting others. How meaning is constructed in footage or photographs (through camera angles, types of shots, editing, etc.) also affects audience interpretations in different ways.
Researchers have discovered that magazine readers spend little more than 2 seconds glancing over a page. On television, a typical commercial ‘spot’ is only 15 or 30 seconds long, and many viewers ‘flip’ through commercial breaks, or ‘surf’ the Internet, staying in one ‘place’ for only seconds at a time. In order to connect quickly with today’s consumers, producers of media texts often create strong emotional appeal based on research into social demographics or ‘psychographics’, which is the analysis of people’s attitudes, beliefs, desires and needs. Although a creative team cannot predict how each individual will react to the media, their research will give them a good idea of how large groups of the population will react.
Why do we study media audiences? Audience study helps to explain how important issues are seen by different people, according to their gender, age, or social group. It also helps us understand the relationship between the producer and audience of a text, and how producers attempt to influence audiences to read their material in a particular way. It helps us understand how young people make meaning of media texts in their lives outside the classroom. In this information age, audience study can also help us determine how to create our own media texts and communicate with our audiences more effectively.
This module will explore several key questions: How does a producer/author’s background influence an individual’s understanding of a media text? How does the construction of a text guide the interpretive process? How does an individual negotiate meaning in a media text? How do audiences use the media in their daily lives?