History of audience

What does it mean to be an active audience and how might we conceptualise the idea of 'activity'?

History of Audience: The word audience has long been familiar as the collective term for the "receivers" in the simple sequential model of the mass communication process (source, channel, message, receiver, effect) that was deployed by pioneers in field of media research(schramm,1954). There is an established discourse in which "audience" simply refers to the readers of, viewers of, listeners to one or other media channel or of this or that type of content or performances. Earlier audience was only one element in a larger institution that included professional writers, performers, producers, and entrepreneurs. Most important, the audience of classical times was localized in place and time.

By the early 18th century, periodical magazines and newspapers were also likely to have regular followings. The expanding print media industry was commonly an object of censorship or regulation, for political and religious reasons. The emergence of the mass media audience began mainly with the introduction of the printed book. This allowed effective communication at a distance in space and time and also privacy in use. With the book came the new phenomenon of a dispersed reading public i.e. set of individuals choosing the same texts.

Starting in the 1920's, broadcasting initiated another phase of audience history in which the creation of new kinds of audience based on technology became a major goal of expanding and profitable media industries. Broadcasting was first of all a technology of distribution, developed out of radio, which only gradually acquired its own distinctive forms (Williams 1974).

A series of now familiar changes in technology and society fundamentally altered the nature of audience, especially in respect of scale; Urbanization, improved technology of printing, increased literacy, and rising living standards by the end of 19th century. The increased scale of media reach was also fuelled by the growth of the advertising industry, which helped to finance cheap daily newspapers, popular magazines and books. Along with larger scale came much more dispersal and differentiation of audience activity.

The first social scientific concept of the audience emerged after one another significant step in media development had been, the invention of film and the cinema form of distribution. The cinema also created the first genuine "mass audience", in the sense of large scale reception of the identical message or performances. Millions of ordinary people came to enjoy same mediated emotional and learning experiences.

Active Audience: Active audience can be viewed as a theory that focuses on assessing what people do with media. These concepts suggest that people make more active decisions about how to use the media. These ideas of audiences are associated with various theories of media effects. Active audience theory is a theory that people receive and interpret media messages in different ways, usually according to factors such as age, ethnicity, social class, etc. The audience is neither passive nor homogenous. The identification of an audience as the readers, viewers, listeners of a particular book, author, film, newspapers title, or television program seems much less problematic. This version of audience is also consistent with market thinking, according to which audiences are sets of consumers for particular media products.

Theories of texts and meanings: Extending the concept of an active audience still further, in the 1980s and 1990s a lot of work was done on the way individuals received and interpreted a text, and how their individual circumstances (gender, class, age, and ethnicity) affected their reading. This work was based on Stuart Hall's encoding/decoding model of the relationship between text and audience. The text is encoded by the producer, and decoded by the reader, and there may be major differences between two different readings of the same code. However, by using recognised codes and conventions, and by drawing upon audience expectations relating to aspects such as genre and use of stars, the producers can position the audience and thus create a certain amount of agreement on what the code means. This is known as a preferred reading. (Stuart Hall, 1970).

Television and media audiences: Media use also reflects broader patterns of time use, availability, lifestyle and everyday routines. The early origins of today's media audience lie in public theateritical and musical performances as well as in the games and spectacles of ancient times. Television broadcasting, which rapidly eclipsed radio, cinema, and overshadowed the popular book and newspaper press. Television was of much greater and affected larger numbers. In addition, privatization of media experience was increased. Though people might read their newspapers in public places and go out to cinema as a social event with friends. According to the Independent television commission in their 1997 audience survey, respondent's listed three main sources for information about world news are gained from television, radio, newspapers. The first theoretical formulation of the media audience concept stemmed from a wider consideration of the changing nature of social life in modern society, Annette Hill (1999). However one interprets the early history of broadcasting, there is no doubt that the radio and television audience rapidly market for hardware and software. Audience do not normally have any awareness of themselves as belonging to markets, and the market discourse in relation to audience is manipulative.

Audience as passive: Another broad theoretical issue the degree of "activity" or "passivity" that can be attributed to the audience. The audience cannot easily "talk back to" producers and senders of mass media messages. The communicative relationship is typically calculative and with no real commitment on either side. Many media operate in local environments and are embedded in local cultures. In smaller countries, especially local or national audiences are less protected from global cultural influences. The interactive media networks have been welcomed by some as the basis for local community or for wider, interest based associations and cyber communities. We also see evidence of increased global marketing of media stars and products.

Audience reception and negotiation of meaning: Audience proposes that not only the significance of the media experience but also the meaning delivered from media content is very dependent on the perceptions and social location of audience members. There is also a measure of convergence between technologies used for public dissemination of messages and those used for interpersonal communication. There are some exceptions, for instance in the phenomenon of the community of internet users, with a shared communication culture.

Manipulation of audience participation: The mass media audience was pictured as the more or less helpless victims of manipulation and exploitation by capitalist media. A more recently critical view charges the media industry with routinely transforming the actual television audience into a piece of commercial information called "ratings". Ratings are described as forming the basis for the agreed upon standard by which advertisers and network buy and sell the audience commodity. Denis Mcquail (1997).

The main goals are first to attract attention and then to promote feelings of personal involvement on the part of audience. There are different ways of trying to do this. In television, studio audiences play an increasingly frequent and prominent active role in a range of different formats, including game shows, talk shows, and public affairs programs.

Media in everyday life: The "audience" as an uncertain outcome of many individual acts of more or less motivated. The cinema capitalized on the patterns of urban leisure, especially of couples and groups of friends looking for confinement and cheap entertainment outside the home. Going to the movies has nearly always been viewed more as a social activity than as an occasion for seeing particular films. Some of theorists argued that television programs had become increasingly youth oriented, to the expense of older viewers. The television is clearly an important part of the household; we have also seen in this chapter that the daily life of a household often has an implicit time schedule and that TV usually, only gets attention during the more relaxed parts of the day. Families and households are therefore focused elsewhere, and sometimes divided in argument, by this shared experience. Television programmes, particularly the news and soap operas, provide fixed marker points within the day's timetable. Weekends were often a more relaxed time, meaning that people would not have watched on weekdays. Some people find television as companionship, to others feeling guilty about the amount of TV they watch, especially during day time.

New media and technology: one proposition is that audience will become more and more fragmented and will lose their national, local, or cultural identity. Another negative view of new electronic media is that they strengthen the potential for social control and surveillance. Under today's conditions the best example of a media that is also in some sense of social group is probably the readership of a local newspaper or the listener group of a community radio station. As a result of new media developments, changes have affected the audience activity. The new possibility for delivering television broadcasting is via cable and satellite. The result has been relatively abundance of supply of audiovisual media and content are greatly increased choice for many. Even television remote control device tends to increase choice, by making it easier to look for alternative. It is also unclear how far the audience wants to be interactive in the new media technology.

New audience for new media: The provisional indications are that new developments, as they arrive (more channels, remote control, recording and replay) are assimilated easily into audience experience, perception and behaviour. For instance, extra channels create problem of choice, demanding new routines of choice making. Internet extends the power of the audience to intervene, to talk back and select, to gain access and it shakes up and diversifies audience. The technologies are electronic, fast, reliable and flexible with low unit message costs. In the emerging forms we are promised a global network of electronic platform through cyberspace in which personal contact with distant other at ease.

Conclusion: People's individual identity are clearly touched by the media in very gentle ways: whilst the ways in which audience see themselves and others may be subtly influenced by many different media elements. This version has been gradually replaced by a view of the media receiver as more or less active, resistant to influence, and guided by his or her own concerns depending upon particular social and cultural context. Identity was more clearly marked in another sense, as people stamped their own identity upon technologies. Though there is increasingly more opportunity to participate in programmes through interactivity and the internet, audiences can still be seen as passive because they are being treated more as consumers. We believe these basic truths will serve all of us well in the years ahead as we watch the transformation of mass media to something much more personal.


  • Denis Mcquail (1997), "Audience Analysis", London: SAGE
  • Fiske, John (2003), "Reading television", London: Routledge
  • Couldry, N. (2005) 'The extended audience: "Scanning the horizon"
  • Marie Gillespie (2005), "Media Audiences", Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  • David gauntlet and Annette Hill (1999), "TV Living: Television, culture and everyday life", London: BFI.

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