How to teach Audience

Media would not exist without audiences. Yet the media have to compete for people’s attention and interest; and finding and keeping an audience is not easy. Producers might imagine they know what different groups of people will want, but it is often hard to explain why some things become popular and others do not. People also use, interpret and respond to media in very different ways. A given media text will not mean the same thing to everybody. Understanding and reflecting on our own and others’ uses of media is therefore an important part of media education.

Examples for Students:

Example 1: Measuring TV audiences
In most countries, the popularity of TV programmes is measured by ‘ratings’. Often, a fairly small sample of viewers have meters attached to their TV sets to show when it is turned on; and some have ‘people meters’ that show who is in the room at the time. This information is multiplied to give an estimate of the overall audience. This information is vital for advertisers, who want to know how many people are watching and what kind of people they are. TV companies also use it to know how much to charge advertisers for screening their ads. What do you think are the limitations of this system?

Example 2: Fan culture
Many TV programmes, film stars and pop groups have a very dedicated fan following. In many cases, the media encourage this by forming fan clubs and publishing fan magazines and websites. However, fans often exchange information between themselves via magazines or the internet, or at meetings or ‘conventions’; and in some cases they even write stories or make videotapes about their favourite stars. See if you can find some examples of this material. What does it tell you about the pleasures people derive from the media? Do you think fans are typical of media audiences in general?

Example 3: Media Violence
One of the most important areas of research on media audiences has been concerned with the effects on media violence. Some research has involved experiments, in which people’s responses to media are observed and measured. Some has involved surveys, in which people are questioned about their television viewing and their attitudes towards violence. There is a great deal of disagreement between researchers about the nature and extent of such effects. Why do you think there has been so much research on this issue? Will we ever find convincing proof?
Key Questions

Looking at media audiences means looking at:

Targeting. How are media aimed at particular audiences? How do they try to appeal to them?

Address. How do the media speak to audiences? What assumptions do media producers make about audiences?

Circulation. How do media reach audiences? How do audiences know what is available?

Uses. How do audiences use media in their daily lives? What are their habits and patterns of use?

Making sense. How do audiences interpret media? What meanings do they make?

Pleasures. What pleasures do audiences gain from the media? What do they like or dislike?

Social differences. What is the role of gender, social class, age and ethnic background in audience behaviour?
Source: 2003 Center for Media Literacy Literacy for the 21st Century / Orientation & Overview
Source: Buckingham, David: Questioning the Media: A Guide for Students.