Thursday, May 1, 2008

Audiences and media producers.. who holds the power?

With the introduction and development of new media technologies, especially those revolving around the Internet and telecommunications, a significant change has occurred with the way in which audiences consume media. As Jenkins (2006a, 13) has observed in his studies of new media, "the roles between producers and consumers are shifting". Audiences now have a more considerable and noteworthy relationship with media producers, having more choice and influence over which media they consume and how they consume it. Fans of particular media products can now interact and discuss their opinions and suggestions with people interested in or involved with that product from all over the world, via online forums, chat rooms, fan sites, mobile phone alerts and more. Furthermore, media producers are redefining the way in which they decide what content to release, influenced more by quality of audience engagement rather than the quantity of viewers watching (Jenkins 2006b, 63).

The relationship between media producers and audiences is “undergoing a significant transformation”, and thus entities such as fans, consumers, audiences, producers and corporations are individually in the process of being “restructured and reorganised” (Banks 2002, 190). Traditionally, there was hardly a relationship between media producers and audiences. Media provided audiences with content in a one-way approach, believing that most audiences were not interested in interacting with the media content, and would prefer to just sit back and watch (Jenkins 2006b, 59). Although there have always been fans, the extent of fandom in the past was not necessarily significant enough to influence media producers. Historically, networks and producers ignored fan bases in regard to media decisions, considering fans as unrepresentative of the general public (Jenkins 2006b, 76). Before the introduction of the Internet, fans communicated on a friendship basis, via telephone or face to face; or through fan mail and newsletters via postal service. However, as Jenkins (2002, 189) argues, if fandom was already established before the Internet, why is it that upgrading to a digital environment has so significantly affected the relationship between the fan community and media producers?

Jenkins (2006a, 21) describes modern fan cultures as "a revitalisation of the old folk culture process in response to the content of mass culture". Within the new digital environment of the Internet, fans no longer need to rely on the postal service or telephones. The Internet increases the speed and range of fandom, allowing audiences to interact and discuss episodes or movies immediately after viewing, or even during commercial breaks (Jenkins 2002, 190). Fandom generates audience interest and takes their involvement to a new level, providing a platform for viewers to inform each other of recent developments, allowing them to keep up-to-date constantly, even if they happen to miss an episode. For example, Lost-TV is an unofficial fansite for the TV series Lost, which includes the latest announcements and exclusives on the show, information, episode-by-episode synopses, transcripts, spoilers, pictures, an online forum and much more. Media producers have embraced this, ensuring that audience loyalty remains even if they are unable to religiously watch the program. In addition to this, fan networks provide producers with an insight into how audiences feel about the content of the program, suggestions and speculations that are being made, and any other discussions surrounding the program. As a result of this, many fans expect that producers will now “actively listen to, engage with and support” their opinions and ideas, building a collaborative relationship with them (Banks 2002, 195). As fandom becomes increasing popular, it is becoming more influential over producers, and providing them a greater insight into audience desires and expectations.

The growth of fandom has resulted in audiences and media producers no longer being separate entities. Many producers are themselves fans, participating actively in fan networks on the Internet (Banks 2002, 195). This also works the other way, as many audience members and fans are now becoming producers, either of original content, or by editing and reproducing current media. Examples of this include A Swarm of Angels, Fan Fiction and 365 Tomorrows. Over the past few decades, emerging technologies such as home computers, video cameras and VCRs have “granted viewers control over media flows, enabled activists to reshape and recirculate media content, lowered the costs of production and paved the way for new grassroots networks” (Jenkins 2002, 167), the most common and simple example of this being the development of YouTube. Pierre Levy (cited in Jenkins 2002, 164) comments on the future of media, “The distinctions between authors and readers, producers and spectators, creators and interpretations will blend to form a reading-writing continuum”. Many producers support this theory, and by using fan sites they have identified audiences’ need to interact with, interpret and reproduce content. Therefore, room for improvisation and participation is being incorporated into many new media franchises, and television producers are becoming extremely knowledgeable about their fan communities, often responding and expressing their support through networked computing (Jenkins 2002, 164). In doing this, media producers have given audiences a degree of social control over media, allowing them the grounds to produce their own content. Thus the relationship between media producers and audiences has indeed changed, with the two entities meshing and overlapping responsibilities.

Personally, I feel that regardless of the extent of power or influence audiences have over media producers, in the end those with the final say will be those with the money - the media producers. Unfortunately, as much as people may try and think otherwise, we are living in a material world and money tends to equal power. Even fans fear that the role of media producers is still too controlling - Jenkins (2006a, 20) points out that American Idol fans "fear that their participation is marginal and that producers still play too active a role in shaping the outcome of the competition". In terms of professional media productions, which ultimately aim to make money, producers will ensure that regardless of whether audiences are involved or not, the final product will be whatever they believe will be most successful... and make the most money. Produsage, user-generated content and fandom have all provided audiences with much more power than they ever had traditionally, however I believe that ultimately, the real power will always lie with media producers (and their money).

For more info on fandom check out:

  • Online Fandom -Nancy Baym's blog on fan communication and online social life
  • Random Fandom - a podcast hosted by Joanna, sharing her thoughts and opinions on fandom including music, pop culture, movies, etc
  • Fan Forum - as it suggests, an online fan forum allowing fans to communicate and share their thoughts on their fandom

Banks, J. 2002. Gamers as Co-creators: Enlisting the Virtual Audience – A Report From the Net Face. In Mobilising the Audience, eds. M. Balnaves, T. O’Reagan, and J. Sternberg, 188-212. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Jenkins, H. 2006a. Introduction: Worship at the Altar of Convergence. In Convergence Culture: When New and Old Media Collide, ed. H. Jenkins, 1-24. New York: New York University Press.

Jenkins, H. 2006b. Buying into American Idol: How We Are Being Sold on Reality Television. In Convergence Culture: When New and Old Media Collide, ed. H. Jenkins, 59-92. New York: New York University Press.

Jenkins, H. 2002. Interactive Audiences? In The New Media Book, ed. D Harries, 157-170. London: BFO Publishing.


Daniel Koppenol said...

Cheese, you have provided some highly useful and informative insights into both user-generated content and the concept of ‘fandom’. Overall, you have produced a well-researched article, referring to reliable and prominent academics in the field of media and communication. I felt your references, however, should have been ‘backed-up’ by real online examples.

I can completely understand your discussion and the opinions within it. I recently produced a paper on very similar subject matter and have undertaken a considerable amount of reading in the field. Despite this, it was particularly interesting to discover that ‘produsage’ has not only come to benefit consumers, but also the broadcast media. In the sense that producers are engaging with audiences more in order to boost ratings, I have to agree. However, although there has been a definitive shift in producer/consumer relations, does the media really listen to us? Have they really provided audiences with cultural power and social control? I’m not so sure.

I was also unaware that media outlets were actually seeking the opinions of their audiences via discussion forums. In saying that, you could have exemplified these findings by providing hyperlinks to relevant virtual communities. Furthermore, although you competently explain the concept of ‘fandom’ within the online landscape, you do not actually cite any discussion forums to support your argument. After reading your post I was eager to find such examples in order to expand my own knowledge. I came across, a website dedicated to peer-to-peer communication regarding music, television and film. I recommend you have a look, its an interesting website. Overall, a very interesting and insightful blog, just try and use real life examples to validate your statements and give them credibility.

cheese said...

Thanks Daniel, you have provided some very constructive criticism. I have taken on board your comments, and edited my post considering your suggestions. Thanks again,

cynthia said...

Your entry is really interesting. This essay focused on a narrow topic, the relationship between media producers and audiences. In fact, it has to admit that the relationship has changed a lot by the Internet, especially on-line communities.

In my mind, it is a typical example of the relationship between old and new media. Audiences did not have any other choice but to receive media producers' minds in old media. Jenkins stated that media producers provided the productions to audiences in a one-way approach (Cited by Cheese, 2008). According to Jenkins' essay (Cited by Cheese, 2008), "historically, networks and producers ignored fan bases in regard to media decisions,considering fans as unrepresentative of the general public". It could be concluded that media producers ignored the power of audiences. And only media producers had the power to control media productions.

It sounds little unfair, right?

Audiences were consumers, but they could not choose what they really liked in that time. However, the Internet ultimately liberated audiences in some way. The ranks of fandom were increased by the Internet. Fans and users can discuss movies and dramas any time and any place on-line. Just as Jenkins (cited by Cheese, 2008) mentioned, even they can communicate during breaks of drama, such as advertising time. Mr. Bruns (Bruns, 2008) pointed out that on-line communities' power is as cultural institutions. "Fan communities influencd the future development of media franchises". Therefore, media producers pay much more attention to audiences' feedbacks than before.

Lastly, I totally agree with your point of view which are about the final power being money. Although audiences became more powerful with the Internet, making profits was the final aim of media producers. Therefore, I totally agree with the real power will always depend on media producers and their money.

Bruns, A. 9 April. Online Communities. [Lecture: QUT KCB203]

Jenkins, H. 2002. Interactive Audiences? In D. Harries (ed.) The New Media Book, ed. D Harries, 157-170. London: BFO Publishing.

scifiguyuk said...

Hi there,
Really enjoyed your post, aptly summed up the changing relationship between audiences and producers. I'm currently writing my Honours Dissertation on the subject, with particular focus on Lost as a media entity. I was wondering if you would mind if I cited you within? If so, would you mind providing me with some more details to list in my reference? I'm not sure 'Cheese' will be accepted by my tutors. :P thanks regardless. If it's easier to email me I'm at:
Thanks. :)