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Media Theory | Creative Audiences

Media Theory | Creative Audiences

What is Audience?

Week three of my MA built on concepts of culture/popular culture and semiotic and multimodal approaches to analysing media texts.  The central theme of this week’s lecture concerned research methodology associated with the audiences of these texts. The simplest definition of the audiences is the receiver or consumer of a text:

[T]he audience is made up of “readers”, a term which can be applied to real people, but also to that mythical person […] to whom the text is addressed. This term “reader” does not apply only to the reader of a written text, but also to someone listening to an aural text or viewing a visual text’ (Bertrand & Hughes, 2018, p. 45).

Early models of media exchange based on Lasswell’s model of media communication rendered the audience as passive receivers of information (Hypodermic syringe/silver bullet) acted upon by media. A series of effects studies summarised by Hodkinson included the UGT (uses and gratification theory) in which the texts themselves were the focus of research. Outlined in this table from Bertrand and Hughes


Cultural studies perspective

The cultural studies audience perspective, Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model developed at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) looked at how audiences were engaged in meaning construction and assumed that social class determined how the reader would interact with a given text. Hall proposed that audiences read from three hypothetical positions:

  1. Dominant-hegemonic position – agreeing with the message of the text
  2. Negotiated position – partial agreement with the example of workers wages
  3. Oppositional position – preferred meaning is rejected 


Audience Ethnography

David Morley also of the CCCS used the BBC current affairs television programme Nationwide to initially study the encoding/decoding part of the reception theory “the programme’s distinctive ideological themes and with the particular ways in which Nationwide addressed the viewer” (Brunsdon 1978). He applied ethnographical surveys of audiences in educational and occupational contexts. The findings in the context of the dominant-hegemony, negotiated and oppositional codes found less of a match of readers with class than expected. Morley’s Nationwide study served to expose limitations in the encoding/decoding model “the study concluded that responses to media content were not determined by social class alone but connected to understandings people had access to as a result of more particular social and occupational positions” (Hodkinson 2010 : 86). Not all the groups were easy to classify and a group of students refused to complete the survey as it had no interest to them. The limitations in Hall’s model could also be applied to the Barthes’ Mythological approach to analysing texts concerning the ultimate meaning of the message.


Constructionist view

Ang on Dallas Study. Audience study in Holland of US Soap opera Dallas (Rich Ewing family)
She was interested in the fact that whilst Dallas was despised as an aesthetic object it was loved by audiences. Len Ang appealed through a newspaper advert for people to complete survey focusing on the realism conveyed in the soap. 
  • Empirical realism – how well does Dallas match viewers experience?
  • Emotional realism – how convincing in the emotional world of the characters? FAN STUDIES


Audiences, users and producers

Considering today’s contemporary media or convergent landscape as defined by Jenkins (2016) the concept of data capitalism is central to an understanding of how audiences read and engage with media.

‘Some of the world’s richest men are making their money not producing cars or machinery; but from computer codes and the convergence in the telecommunications and entertainment industries’ (Bertrand & Hughes, 2018) (e.g., van Dijck, 2013; 2018; Fuchs, 2017)

We now see a blurring of boundaries between the traditional position of producer/consumer. How do we even define audience? Miekel and Young (2011) suggest a number of different possible definitions (citizens, publics, readers, consumers, producers) “but none captures a fuller sense of media use or connects so clearly with existing traditions of media research”

Creative audiences move away from the audience as a passive reader but as skilled, socially aware, collaborative, technologically versed who tap into interests as fans.


Participatory Culture

Henry Jenkins describes participatory culture as ‘the social and cultural interactions that occur around media’ (Jenkins, 2006, p. 305). His thoughts relating to young people adapting to the changing media environment and the broadening of the definition of media literacy are summed up in this video and covers aspects of the community, fan culture and young people mobilising globally to tackle a range of civic and human rights issues.



Further reading:

  • Bertrand, Ina & Hughes, Peter (2018) Media Research Methods: Audiences, Institutions, Texts 
  • Brunsdon, Charlotte (1978) Everyday Television – Nationwide. London: BFI.
  • Graham Meikle & Sherman Young’s book, Media Convergence: Networked Digital Media in Everyday Life.
  • Hodkinson, Paul (2016) Media, Culture and Society: An Introduction

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