Audiences

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Considering your Audience

‘Audience’ is a very important concept throughout media studies. All media texts are made with an audience in mind, ie a group of people who will receive it and make some sort of sense out of it. And generally, but not always, the producers make some money out of that audience. Therefore it is important to understand what happens when an audience “meets” a media text.

When a media text is being planned, perhaps the most important question the producers consider is “Does it have an audience?” If the answer to this is ‘no’, then there is no point in going any further. If no one is going to watch/read/play/buy the text, the producers aren’t going to make any money or get their message across. Audience research is a major part of any media company’s work. They use questionnaires, focus groups, and comparisons to existing media texts, and spend a great deal of time and money finding out if there is anyone out there who might be interested in their idea.

It’s a serious business; media producers basically want to know the

  • income bracket/status
  • age
  • gender
  • race
  • location

of their potential audience, a method of categorising known as demographics. Once they know this they can begin to shape their text to appeal to a group with known reading/viewing/listening habits.

One common way of describing audiences is to use a letter code to show their income bracket:

A Top management, bankers, lawyers, doctors and other highly salaried professionals
B Middle management, teachers, many ‘creatives’ eg graphic designers etc

C1 Office supervisors, junior managers, nurses, specialist clerical staff etc
C2 Skilled workers, tradespersons (white collar)
D Semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers (blue collar)
E Unemployed, students, pensioners, casual workers

They also consider very carefully how that audience might react to, or engage with, their text. The following are all factors in analysing or predicting this reaction.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT This describes how an audience interacts with a media text. Different people react in different ways to the same text.
AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS These are the advance ideas an audience may have about a text. This particularly applies to genre pieces. Don’t forget that producers often play with or deliberately shatter audience expectations.
AUDIENCE FOREKNOWLEDGE This is the definite information (rather than the vague expectations) which an audience brings to a media product.
AUDIENCE IDENTIFICATION This is the way in which audiences feel themselves connected to a particular media text, in that they feel it directly expresses their attitude or lifestyle.
AUDIENCE PLACEMENT This is the range of strategies media producers use to directly target a particular audience and make them feel that the media text is specially ‘for them’.
AUDIENCE RESEARCH Measuring an audience is very important to all media institutions. Research is done at all stages of production of a media text, and, once produced, audience will be continually monitored.

Audience reaction to even early versions of a media text is closely watched. Hollywood studios routinely show a pre-release version of every movie they make to a test audience, and will often make changes to the movie that are requested by that audience.

Different types of media texts measure their audiences in different ways. The easiest way is to count the number of units sold e.g. for a video game or a downloaded song.

Film Figures are based on box office receipts, rather than the number of people who have actually seen the movie. Subtract the production costs of a movie from the box office receipts to find out how much money it made, and therefore how successful it has been in the profit-driven movie business. Be aware that a film which does not cost much to make and takes even a modest amount at the box office can be considered a greater success than a big action movie which cost more, has a bigger set of box office receipts (ie lots more people went to see it) but has a smaller profit margin. Also be aware that film companies are very coy about publishing production costs of a movie, and that they rarely include the cost of a film’s marketing budget, which is probably at least a third again of the production costs, and is frequently more. in some cases, the marketing budget may exceed the cost of originally making the film, especially for an indie hit that is picked up for mainstream distributionYou can find details of the box office of more recent movies at IMDb and Box Office Mojo.
Print Magazines and newspapers measure their circulation (ie numbers of copies sold). They are open about these figures – they have to be as these are the numbers quoted to advertisers when negotiating the price of a page.
Radio/TV Measuring the number of viewers and listeners for a TV/Radio programme or whole station’s output is a complex business. Generally, an audience research agency (eg BARB) will select a sample of the population and monitor their viewing and listening habits over the space of 7 days. The data gained is then extrapolated to cover the whole population, based on the percentage sample. It is by no means an accurate science and you can find about some of the techniques used here . The numbers obtained are known as the viewing figures or ratings.
Internet Internet sites measure the hit rate of a page or site. Code inserted into the site collects information on the number of visitors, whether they are visiting for the first time or returning, and how many other pages they visit within a site. This information is used to measure the success of a site or page, and to calculate the rates charged for advertising.

Audience theory provides a starting point for many Media Studies tasks. Whether you are constructing a text or analysing one, you will need to consider the destination of that text (i.e. its target audience) and how that audience (or any other) will respond to that text.

Remember that a media text in itself has no meaning until it is read or decoded by an audience.

 

 

AUDIENCE THEORIES

Read more about audience theories on this website…

See this Handout on Audience Theories

 

 

 

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