What you need to know…
How audiences are categorised
How audiences are positioned and targeted
How different audiences respond to,
interpret and use texts
In A Level Media Studies you are
asked to explore the relationship
between the text (e.g. a magazine,
a film, a PS3 game, etc) and the
audience and to consider the
social and cultural experiences
that affect audiences’ responses
to the text.
Always bear in mind…
When considering audiences in the twenty-first century, there
are some key points for you to consider:
• The relationship between the media text and the
audience is fluid and changing
• There is no longer assumed to be only one way of
interpreting a text and only one audience
• Audiences are not mass and their responses are
complex and sophisticated
• Audiences are made up of individuals whose
social and cultural experiences may alter how they
respond to any text.
Audiences can be classified according to:
•And so on…
Audience Age Ranges
The media tend to segment audiences by age as a way of identifying groups they can
target for their ‘products’. This is very generalised but acts as a basic guide.
0 – 11
Childhood: pester power for toys, cereals, etc
11 – 16 Early Adolescence: encourage consumption through peer group and a
yearning for maturity
16 – 24 Early Adulthood: Student years. Finding an identity. Anti-authority/
rebellion impulses. Disposable income, autonomy exerted through
purchasing. Peer/social group important.
24 – 35 Adulthood: building career, but less responsibility/finding partner
/having children/settling into domestic circumstances/mortgage/richer
life experiences through travel etc
35 – 45 Early Middle Age: established pattern to domestic and professional
circumstances/responsibility domestically and professionally. Beginning
of earning power but often less disposable income. Emphasis
45 – 55
Middle Age: professional peak both in responsibility and earning
Late Middle Age: Retirement. Children reach maturity and move on.
Emphasis changes from family to couple or divorce. ‘Grey pound’.
Advertisers’ social grades
Higher managerial, professional
3% of population
Intermediate managerial, professional,
13.5% of population
Supervisory, clerical, junior managerial,
22% of population
Skilled working class
32% of population
semi and unskilled
20.5% of population
Lowest level of subsistence
State pensioners, casual or lowest
9% of population
New Socio-economic classifications
Used by the UK government since 2001, but not yet taken up by media industries, who
continue to prefer the older classification system.
(Why do you think that might be?)
The new system has eight categories:
Higher managerial and professional occupations
Lower managerial and professional occupations
Intermediate occupations (clerical, sales, service)
Small employers and own account workers
Lower supervisory and technical occupations
Never worked and long-term unemployed
VALs (Values, Attitudes and Lifestyles) was developed in the USA in the early 1970’s.
The original categorisations were:
traditionalist, cautious and conforming conservatives;
nest builders, stay-at-homers. Susceptible to advertising
of pension plans, home insurance, DIY, etc.
smaller, more impressionable group, often young. Identity
seekers. Lacking in self confidence, confused and
Advertisers prey on their insecurities, offering
models, heroes and the reassurance of
3. Emulator-Achievers Materialists, acquisitive consumers; favour designer labels;
consumer goods as evidence of accomplishment, success
and good taste.
4. Societally-conscious concerned more with personal rather than financial or
professional fulfilment; against conspicuous consumption,
the‘green’ market, sceptical of advertising
Minimum wage earners or those receiving welfare benefits.
Mainly concerned to survive rather than consume in the
advertisers’ sense. As far as advertisers are concerned, they
Other lifestyle categories continue to be ‘identified’
Security and stability seekers
…the list is endless…
Channel 4 commissioned extensive research into youth markets in 2006, which they
described as ‘youth tribes’ focused on categorising the lifestyles of young people aged
16-24. This project is still running.
(See http://www.findyourtribe.co.uk/ and http://www.uktribes.com).
26 main categories were described which included ‘townies’, ‘trendies’ and ‘indie
scenesters’. Youth and ethnicity has also been researched by idtv at
Traditionally, classification by residential area and housing type. ACORN, the best known
system, updated its categories in 2001 to take into account changes in society. The new
categories consider lifestyles as well as housing and financial status. It has 5 main groups
with 56 categories in total.
Here’s an example group:
Group 3 - Comfortably Off
24 - Young couples, flats and terraces
25 - White collar singles/sharers, terraces
26 - Younger white-collar couples with mortgages
27 - Middle income, home owning areas
28 - Working families with mortgages
29 - Mature families in suburban semis
30 - Established home owning workers
31 - Home owning Asian family areas
32 - Retired home owners
33 - Middle income, older couples
34 - Lower income people, semis
35 - Elderly singles, purpose built flats
The relationship between the
audience and the text…
Positioning the Audience
Stuart Hall: texts are encoded by the producers of the texts to contain certain
meanings (related to the social and cultural background of the creator of that text).
However, once the reader of the text decodes that text then the meanings intended
by the producer may change.
Hall suggests three main perspectives in the way in which an audience responds to a
media text. This involves how the audience is positioned by the text and their
Preferred or dominant readings: where the audience interprets the text
closely to the way in which the producer of the text intended. If the cultural
and social experience of the reader is close to that of the producer then
there is little for the audience to challenge.
Negotiated readings: where the audience goes through some sort of
Oppositional or resistant readings: where the user of the text finds
negotiation with itself to allow it to accept the way in which the text is
presented. You may agree with some elements of the text and disagree
him/herself in conflict with the text due to their beliefs or experiences. A
narrative in a soap opera that views a woman who is having an affair
sympathetically will encourage a resistant reading in a person whose
culture is against adultery.
How texts construct and position audiences
Texts can be said to construct an idea of their viewer/reader. This can be applied to
an analysis of magazines where the magazine constructs an idea of ‘Nuts man’ or
When considering how an audience
is positioned, we should consider:
• Use of Language
• Mode of address
Evidence that magazines construct their audiences can be found in their press packs.
For example the Men’s Health press pack reads as follows:
‘Who is the Men’s Health reader?
1. Late 20’s to mid 30’s, predominantly ABC1’s, a performance driven achiever,
self confident ,open minded and adventurous
2. Advanced in his career with the benefits of success translating into spending
3. Older and wealthier than the other major UK men’s lifestyle magazines with
an appreciation of quality and an aesthetic eye’
Building on Hall’s theory that readings of
media texts are mostly negotiated, we
need to consider…
What affects the way in
which an audience or user
responds to a text?
Cultural competence: different audience groups decode media texts in
different ways because of social variables including gender, age, sexuality,
class and ethnicity. This helps to explain varying audience preferences and
pleasures. For example, women and men respond differently to texts.
Situated culture: how the audience ‘situation’ can affect how it responds
Cultural experience: how a culture, upbringing and experiences of the
to different texts e.g. where the user is and who they are with. Are you
watching a film in a cinema with friends or on peak time TV with your family?
audience affect its response to a text. It also includes how the understanding
of the world is shaped by media experience. For example, knowledge of
other countries, hospital procedures and police business does not always
come from direct experience but from exposure to a range of media texts.
Text producers are also aware that an audience may be either:
Primary – the audience targeted by the text’s
producers. E.g. the primary audience of
Cosmopolitan magazine is young women aged
between 18 and 30
Secondary/alternative – the audience who may
‘come across’ a text accidentally. E.g. the
boyfriends, younger sisters or mothers of the
Cosmopolitan reader. Or the bored elderly man
nothing else to read in his dentist’s waiting room.
Clearly each audience will ‘read’ Cosmopolitan differently! Their
interpretation of the text is mediated through their gender, age,
culture, life experiences, values, etc.
The Hypodermic Needle Model
This theory suggests that:
information from a text passes into the mass
consciousness of the audience unmediated, i.e. the
experience, intelligence and opinion of an individual are
not relevant to the reception of the text.
the audience is manipulated by the creators of media
texts, and that their behaviour and thinking might be
easily changed by media-makers.
the audience are passive and heterogeneous.
This theory is still quoted during moral panics by parents, politicians and pressure groups,
and is used to explain why certain (‘vulnerable’) groups in society should not be
exposed to certain media texts (comics in the 1950s, rap music in the 1990s), for
fear that they will watch or read or hear about sexual or violent behaviours and will
then act them out themselves (look at media coverage of the Winnenden
shootings. As much emphasis was placed on Tim Kretschner’s library of horror
movies as on the huge collection of weaponry held by his father, who had also
taught Tim to shoot).
Can you think of other examples where a medium has been claimed to have this effect on
The Two-Step Flow
(Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson,
and Hazel Gaudet)
Information does not flow directly from the media text into the minds of
its audience unmediated but is filtered through "opinion leaders”.
These opinion leaders then communicate it to their less active associates,
over whom they have influence.
The audience then mediate the information received directly from the
media with the ideas and thoughts expressed by the opinion leaders, thus
being influenced not by a direct process, but by a two step flow.
The power of the media is diminished as social factors are also important
in the way in which audiences interpret texts.
Media producers seeking to promote their text will attempt to influence
opinion formers/shapers within their targeted market, whom they hope
will in turn influence a wider audience/market. (look at C4’s Youth Tribes
and viral marketing campaigns on YouTube)
Uses & Gratifications
In this theory, far from being a passive mass,
audiences are made up of individuals who actively
consumed texts for different reasons and in different
Blulmer and Katz expanded this theory and
published their own in 1974, stating that individuals
might choose and use a text for the following purposes
(i.e. uses and gratifications):
Diversion - escape from everyday problems and routine.
Personal Relationships - using the media for emotional
other interaction, e.g. substituting soap operas for family life
Personal Identity - finding yourself reflected in texts, learning
behaviour and values from texts
Surveillance - Information which could be useful for living e.g.
weather reports, financial news, holiday bargains…
This theory can be viewed as simplistic as audiences have become more diverse and
complex and media formats have become more fluid and changing. It may be that the
audience has needs not addressed by existing media texts.
When considering today’s media audiences, what use or gratification might you add to
From the Active to the Interactive Audience
New technologies such as computer games and the internet, have seen audiences
become interactive users of the media who are active in their choices. In Media
Gender and Identity (2002), David Gauntlett describes a ‘pick and mix’ audience
who uses texts, ignoring some aspects of them and choosing the aspects that suit
it at that time. Now that we can access any TV programmes on-demand at any
time of the day or week, we create our own viewing schedules. Do we still sit
down as a family at peak time on a Monday evening to watch EastEnders followed
Much has been made of the rise of ‘we media’.
The audience no longer just receives and interprets
media texts, but actively creates their own
texts in their own homes, using digital technologies,
and distributes their products through social
networking sites (MySpace, Twitter, etc)
Media texts such as music tracks, video adverts, etc, are easily downloaded and
‘mashed up’ to create a new text the user can then share with her/his friends.
The power of the social networker to bring something to mass attention has not
gone unnoticed. Viral advertising tries to exploit the boom in social
communication by creating ads we want to share with friends.
…But who’s really in control?
Interactivity, active choices, creativity…sounds wonderful. But how much control
does the audience really have over what they access, create and upload?
Facebook recently updated their terms of service to say that anything you
uploaded could be used by Facebook in any way they deemed fit, they could even
sub-license your content if they wish! This outraged many users forcing Facebook
to revert back to the original terms of service temporarily.
So who’s behind many of our favourite online sites?
is owned by News Corp (Fox TV, Twentieth Century Fox, The
Sun, The Times…)
is owned by Time Warner AOL (Publishing, film, TV, and online
(social networking site aimed at under 8s) is owned by Disney
(one of the largest international media companies)
is owned by Vivendi (major European media corporation)
These huge multinational corporations share details to enable marketers to
create profiles of users and target them with their products (think about the
recommendations you get from Amazon or iTunes!). Our media use is being
monitored more closely than ever before (look at uk govt plans for networks).
A Marxist perspective of the media would consider how
much of what we read and do is not just monitored, but
closely controlled (see materials on ideology and false
Put simply, the view of Marxist critics is that the media are controlled
by those in power, politically and economically (governments and
international businesses), and are used either to 1. distract us from
what’s really going on (think about metaphors of media as drugs ‘television the drug of a nation…’, etc) or
2. persuade us to accept the imbalance
of political and economic power as ‘right’
or ‘natural’, thus maintaining the status
quo and keeping us, the ordinary people
in our place!
This state of distraction or persuasion is
called ‘false consciousness’.
For example, we could say that women have been lulled into a state of ‘false
consciousness’ because society (dominant ideology), through the representation
of women on TV, in films and in magazines, encourages women to conform to
stereotypes about how they should look and behave. Some critics have called
this the ‘cult of femininity’, as it suggests there is a very narrowly defined ‘ideal’
of what femininity is. The same arguments could be applied to masculinity, the
acceptable lifestyle we lead, etc.
Dove Photoshop exercise, Renee
Zellwegger Hello article on her weight
loss, the size zero ‘debate’
What do you think?
•Is the Marxist view of the media
•Do you favour the view of the
active, creative, audience?
•What about the other theories of
the hypodermic needle, two step
flow and uses and gratifications?