Media Audiences

This week’s articles dealt with the evolution of media, specifically media audiences. In his article, Nick Couldry examines Abercrombie and Longhurst’s theory of audiences and adds his own interpretation. Couldry begins the article by relaying the three challenges associated with audience research. These challenges are technology, social/spatial and experience. As my fellow bloggers have both covered this aspect of the article I won’t go into it too much other than to say that the constant changes in technology, social/spatial and experience create a constantly evolving audience base that is almost impossible to define.
While describing the social/spatial challenge Couldry says that the changes to media technologies inevitably change the “locations” of the audience. He mentions the three
phases of audience development as argued by Abercrombie and Longhurst. The audiences are as follows:
1. ‘simple audience’ which he describes as “co-presence of performers and audiences”
2. ‘mass audience’ of newspapers, television, etc. from the late nineteenth century to mid twentieth century
3. ‘diffused audience’ which is applicable in contemporary times and describes the state of being “almost permanently connected to one electronic medium or another, across almost every activity of social and private life”(186).
As part of their theory, Abercrombie and Longhurst suggest that the distinction between audience and performers is falling away in the world of the diffused audience. With the boom of reality television, they argue, more ‘ordinary’ people are on television. This not only increases the likelihood of one being on television but allows them to identify with the non professional media performers. While they will most likely never be on television, some one “like the” was.
Couldry disagrees with some of Abercrombie and Longhurst’s theory. He believes that “in a world where media signals are everywhere (so in that sense the audience is “diffused”) , the differences between audience members and media performers have come to matter more, not less” (196). As a result, he wants to change the term “diffused audience” to “extended audience”. Couldry admits “diffused audience” is a good way to understand how advances in media have led audience experience to be both “widely shared and highly differentiated” but says that does not tell the whole story. He believes “extended audiences” more accurately represents the current condition because it does not ignore the power relations present in media. He believes that the line between media professionals and audience members has been intensified with the development of the audience.
I think this interpretation makes a lot of sense. While it may seem that the ever increasing presence of the audience translates into a transfer of power that is not necessarily the case. While members of the audience participate in media either appearing on reality television shows like Real World or Big Brother or voting on American Idol as mentioned in another article it is still the media companies that are in control. They are ultimately the ones that make the decisions on what media content is even available to for the audiences to consume.

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