In this post, we delve into the quagmire that is the contemporary media audience and get our hands dirty with the big questions – the when, where, why and how of modern media engagement, and how this has changed over time. By doing so, I will also address some of the problems that arise through this unprecedented relationship.
A Brief Background
The relationship between the media and its audience has transformed dramatically over the past century. Unprecedented access to advanced technologies and an increasingly urbanised population has shaped our social expectations and values beyond recognition. The way in which we consume media, and the content we engage in is in stark contrast to earlier generations. So much so, that I may have potentially lost you already. As an increasingly discerning and selective audience, I may be competing with your smartphone, any number of apps or feeds for your attention. You are unlikely to be to engaging with this blog alone.
Ien Ang in ‘Living Room Wars: Rethinking Media Audiences’ argues that all sources of media have been fundamentally altered by this leap forward; ‘developments such as pluralisation, diversification, commercialisation, commodification [and] internationalisation… [have thrown] established paradigms of how [media] operates in culture and society into disarray’ (Ang, 1996). Essentially, the way we live has altered how we think about, and what we want from the media.
When, Where and How?
So, when do we actually engage in media, and where do we do it? You may well be eating your breakfast, on a bus or grabbing 5 minutes between appointments. The ability to access news, literally around the clock, has greatly impacted on the character of media audiences. With an emphasis on ‘instant’ news, social media provides an almost constant stream of information, and we are saturated daily with updates, notifications and alerts from personal devices tuned to our individual media preferences.
This preoccupation with staying ‘up to date’ is apparent in the workplace, within the home and during our leisure time. This rapid change, within only one generation, has implications for our domestic practices, social relationships, and our very identity (Livingstone, 2003), and hence has profoundly changed our society as a media audience.
How we interact with the media has also changed, although not as much as popular opinion might suggest. The 2016 Australian Digital News Report – part of a global survey encompassing 25 other countries – surveyed over 2 000 Australians, and found that there is a distinct pattern in the aged-based consumption of media. People aged over 45 are more likely to use ‘traditional’ media sources such as newspapers, the radio and television. If you are younger than 35, the internet and social media platforms are your most likely source of information. Which tells me that if you are reading my blog, you are probably, but not necessarily under 35. Even with these discrepancies, overall 48% of those surveyed admitted to using Facebook as a source of news.
All these changes are not without consequence. The most prominent issue, according to the 2016 News Report, is that we crave instant gratification and have a shorter attention span – only 10% of consumers would read more than two thirds of an article this size or larger. It’s good to know I have engaged at least 1 in 10 of you. Issues are made more complicated by ‘media produsers’. We apparently aren’t satisfied with merely engaging in content and so have started creating our own. Click ‘share’ and you become part of the illustrious club.
While these findings and trends pose a range of challenges in terms of retaining audience attention, patronage and interest, the report claims not all is doom and gloom. It suggests the percentage of those less inclined to trust a news source may represent an emerging group of higher educated, more critical consumers. Come to think of it;that is probably you. Stay tuned…
The report points out that younger generations, engaged with the media as a source of entertainment, are yet to ‘come of age’ and begin accessing news as a daily necessity. The impacts of this transition, and the ability of social media to provide for these needs is unknown. It seems there is still rocky rides ahead.
- Livingstone, S 2003, ‘The changing nature of audiences: from the mass audience to the interactive media user [online], London: LSE Research Online
- Ang, I 1996, ‘Living room wars: rethinking media audiences’, Routledge
- Watkins, Jerry; Park, Sora; Blood, R. Warwick; Deas, Megan; Dunne Breen, Michelle; Fisher, Caroline; Fuller, Glen; Lee, Jee Young; Papandrea, Franco; Ricketson, Matthew. (2016). Digital News Report: Australia 2016. News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra.