Audience theories – TRUPAC
Types of Audience
Reception and Effects
Uses and Gratifications
Power of Audiences
Advertisers and their role
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T – Types of Audiences – How are they classified? How are the texts constructed to specifically target
that audience? Use your Deconstruction Toolkit (Sam Slatcard) to analyse how the text is put together
to appeal to a specific group. Audience Classification sees Audiences as a Mass and suggests there is a
dominant ‘group’ ideology when responding to a text.
R – Reception of Texts and Effects of Texts – How do Audiences create meaning from texts? How are
Audiences affected by texts?
Audiences can be seen as:
Receiving texts (Reception
Theory) actively, having
power over the message
more passively being
affected by the media
(Effects Theory) or
changed over time as a
result of their exposure to
the Media (Cultivation
Reception Theory essentially views Audiences as Individuals – receiving and decoding messages on a
personal, individual level choosing to either accept the message (preferred reading), reject the message
(oppositional reading) or select which bits they agree with (negotiated reading). Audiences are active as
the textual meaning is open to interpretation before Audiences participate in the process. Hall argues
that texts are encoded for this ‘preferred’ meaning, with signs and codes, but that ultimately they are
decoded independently. This Postmodern idea of multiple meaning and multiple messages encoded
within one text has been criticised for its simplification of the Audience and Media relationship. Miller
and Philo argue,
‘beliefs can be influenced by new messages from the media and also by the flow of new experience
which can...be used in the rejection or acceptance of new messages. In other words the reception
model should be dynamic.’ The Active Audience and wrong turns in Media Studies
Effects Theory sees Audiences as Mass – as a group experiencing media and its intended message.
Gerbner argued that media has the impact of Cultivation and that these changes are small and occur
over a long period of time (see C – below). The Effects of Media Violence has been studied extensively
and can be used to consider the effects of all media in general. It is believed that violence can have
direct effects (changes in behaviour), desensitization (more tolerant of violence in others), Mean World
Syndrome (belief that the world is a scary and mean place, causing anxiety) or Catharsis (a positive
outlet by viewing behaviour of others, people do not feel the need to behave in that way themselves).
“Violence is one of the most fun things to watch.”—Quentin Tarantino
“How a society channels male aggression is one of the greatest questions as to whether that society will survive. That's
why I am not against violence in the media, I am against the glorification of immoral violence.”— Dennis Prager
“A lot of people in the movie industry tend to run and hide from it like ostriches. Movie industry people are definitely in
denial right now, but you do become desensitized to violence. Let's face it, violence exists for one reason in movies, and
that's to get an effect, create an emotion, sell tickets.”—Madeleine Stowe
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Watch this short clip from Common Sense Media on Screen Violence citing children’s cartoons as a
worrying source of violence.
Also interesting are these findings from the Australian Psychological Society:
Finally, this quote from the article V is for Video Game, from their conclusion:
‘The actual effects of the exposure to violent media is quite mixed. Finding this relationship is difficult due to the
complexities of child development and human behavior. While a positive relationship between many types of violent
media and aggressive behaviour has been found, the results that link violent media to crime are not conclusive. In fact,
criminal behaviour appears to be dependent on the individual’s physical and mental state rather than solely liked to
violent media. Constant exposure to violent media is not recommended for children and parents should play and active
role to their children’s exposure to such violence. But children that are healthy and understand the contexts of violence
and what they are watching or listening to appear to suffer no ill long term effects. Much more research and study is
required into aggressive behaviour to determine the full effects of violent media on individuals and children.’
Read the V is for Video Game full article.
David Gauntlett states that there is much to criticise about the Effects Model, particularly with regard to
the effects of screen violence. These include his argument that the effects model tackles social
problems 'backwards', the effects model treats children as inadequate, it is selective in its criticism of
media violence, it assumes superiority of the Masses and the effects model is often based on artificial
studies. (For more on screen violence see notes on Moral Panic)
Two-Step Theory – the idea that opinion leaders influence our reception of and choice of texts, sits
between the Reception and Effects models. The key to the Two-Step theory is the consideration of the
Opinion Leader – whether they are an institutional, commercial agent or an individual Audience
member with equal power? In the age of social media is the Two-Step theory outdated as we are all
brought to text through three, four or five steps. Is it possible for the average Audience member to
know the source of influence?
U – Uses and Gratifications
Uses and Gratification Model by Katz and Blumler suggests that Audiences, now ‘active’, make
conscious choices about their content consumption of media. Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,
U&G simply states Audiences consume media to entertain or divert them, provide information, socially
interact with others and reaffirm personal identity.
A criticism of U&G is that it does not account for texts or parts of texts which Audiences do not
consciously choose, or that Audiences may not know why they have chosen a text. Finally, Audiences
may be barely engaged with the text they are consuming and therefore a discussion of the ‘Use’ or the
‘Gratification’ seems irrelevant.
In addition, not all Audiences have access to all Media, sometimes due to expense and sometimes due
to restricted access – especially true of media in Global contexts.
Audience Power is wrapped up in New Media Technology (or We Media), Institutions and Society. One
of the biggest discussions appears to be to what extent Audiences are able to shape content
(production) and consumption or whether they experience a ‘suggestion’ of power and control and that
the real power stays firmly in the hands of the large corporations. A good example of this is the types of
programmes scheduled on Television and the debate over whether high ratings result in more of the
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same content or whether Media Synergy helps to build the desire for and importance of such
programming (reality TV stars appearing in magazines, News Items, Advertising etc.) so that it captures
and sustains the mass audience, ultimately in the interest of the Institutions, Advertisers etc. With
regard to the Internet, there is Soren Peterson’s paper on ‘Loser generated Content: from Participation
to Exploitation’ which firmly argues that the power is still very much in the hands of then institutions.
Rather than the Internet being a ‘subversion of capitalism’ is has become a free platform for
corporations to reach mass audiences, advertise to them and pick up the best user generated resources
for no cost at all.
Check out the Notes for Institutions and New Media Technology for more on Audience Power.
Typing in ‘delivering audiences to advertisers’ I stumbled across this message on a marketing website. It
Our mission is simple, delivering audiences to your campaign objectives using outstanding
technology solutions in the digital media world.
In fact, continuing looking down the search list, many other companies exist to do the same job. The
importance of Advertisers cannot be underestimated in the relationship between Audiences and Media
Texts. Advertisers provide the fuel for the overwhelming majority of Media products (financial backing –
although it is possible to argue that as consumers we provide those funds in the first place by
purchasing the products). It seems inevitable then, that Media Texts will be laden with consumer-driven
Capitalist messaging and an Ideology which upholds the general values of a consumer culture.
Chomsky explained this in his article ‘What makes mainstream Media mainstream.’
“The New York Times is a corporation and sells a product. The product is audiences. ...You have
to sell a product to a market, and the market is, of course, advertisers (that is, other
businesses). Whether it is television or newspapers, or whatever, they are selling audiences.
Corporations sell audiences to other corporations.”
C – Cultivation
Cultivation Theory by Gerbner suggests a slower almost imperceptible form of the Effects of Media,
similar to Baudrillard’s Hyperreality whereby our perception of reality has changed forever and our
understanding of the world is through the Media representation of it.
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MEST 3, you may be asked a Question directly about Audiences in Q. 1 or you may need to apply your
knowledge to Q2 or Q3.
Either way, make absolutely sure you....
1) Read and respond to the question very closely
2) Use detailed examples from the text and add supporting examples from related texts.
3) Consider carefully the issues of Audience change in light of New Digital Technologies in terms
of how Audiences produce and consume texts.
4) Use key terminology to describe Audiences
5) Use key theories to describe Audience behaviour and involvement within the Media
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