How audiences respond to media

Understanding how media audiences respond to media products.

Firstly, lets work our way into understanding a few theories as to how an audience might respond to a media product.

The hypodermic needle model is a theory of communications, that suggests that a message that is displayed or extruded via a media product is directly accepted into the minds of receivers, regardless of consent or resistance. The theory is also known as the “Magic Bullet” theory, and suggests that any media’s message is a bullet that is fired from the “Media gun” into the viewers head, and that the public cannot escape from the media’s influence. Overall, this method usually only works on mediums where the recipient has no prior experience.

A direct example can be of the 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” which spread panic across the American mass audience due to its unsettling and new nature. However, much controversy still remains around this, as the audience still had a diverse and widespread view on the film, even if the reactions were noticeable. The theory is therefore just a theory, and has many factors that can prove or disprove such an allegation.

However, on the flip side is the Uses and gratifications theory, an approach as to how and why media audiences will consistently seek out specific media to satisfy specific needs. The driving slogan for the theory is “Why do people use the media and what do they use them for?”, and it discusses as to how the users choose media to satisfy specific needs on a social basis, relaxation basis, or even a basis to escape from reality itself. The con to this theory though is that it only takes into consideration the audiences that actively seek out media, and does not apply to passive interpreters. People whom follow trends simply because its a trend, are considered passive, as an example.

The audience Reception theory is a way of characterizing “waves” of audience research, typically within the 1980’s and 90’s.

The premises of this theory are that the media has an agenda based premises that can be divided into 3.

  1. That the same event can be encoded, or displayed in more than one way;
  2. The message contains more than one possibly way to perceived or read
  3. Understanding the message can be problematic, regardless of how natural it may seem.

It talks about media in a sense that is often open to perception or the way it may be interpreted, as some media products are unspecific about any goals. A good example of this might be Video installations, as many installations are deemed artistic in that they do not resemble anything specific, but then tell a story that is open for questioning and has no 100% sure-fire answer, allowing for users or audiences to interpret meanings for themselves. The theory also states that this isn’t necessarily a good thing, however – as quoted by the word “Problematic”.

This then brings us onto the wider spectrum of audience perception, and speaks about the wider picture. Passive and Active consumption of media within audiences.

We, as an audience no matter the time or place are constantly receiving passive and active consumption of media throughout our day to day lives, from the branding on the computer screen you may be working off of in the office as a passive consumption, to the active consumption of seeking out specific music and playing it for your own enjoyment. All of this is media consumption, regardless of the way that it is perceived or the way that it is advertised and executed.

Passive consumption of media specifically talks about the way we as individuals are influenced by things around us on a day to day basis without consent or consideration. This affects the person on psychological scale but doesn’t always manifest itself into view or consideration, meaning that we can passively recognize things but not necessarily remember where from.

Active consumption is the direct opposite of passive consumption, as a person would generally go out of their way to consume specific media produce in order to satisfy a personal need (Going back to the aforementioned uses and gratifications theory), often allowing the audience to directly know what they are recognizing and engaging activities within.

There is another theory that is the direct opposite of the hypodermic needle theory, and that is the Culmination theory. The theory generically states that over time we will feel a need to give into a certain media product in order to quell a specific need. A good example of a product line that follows this theory religiously is the Coke-cola advertisements. The coke cola company is one of the largest and richest companies to date, yet advertisements are few and far between when it comes to public commercials. When advertisements do play however, they are at large public events that are often broadcast nationally, or during holiday seasons. By doing this over decades of time, they have gradually seeded themselves into the culture and economy as a large asset, allowing the culmination theory to take great effect. We see the Coke-cola adverts and crave them, applying to the hypodermic needle model, but when we see them a few years later, will we be buying them for the same reason? No – we’ll be buying them because we know we like it!

Finally, a theory to talk about is the desensitisation theory, and should definitely be taken into account for any production company with the intention on researching target audiences or generalizations for their audiences. The desensitisation theory suggests that depending on what we watch and when we watch it in comparison with other media products of that genre from a different era, that we will react differently. Old western films in their day were intense, because not only were they new- but they held many new and unique aspects of film making, an example being shoot-outs that involve little music and a lot of silent tension between two people. However, after this technique within this genre of media became more and more widespread, people began to expand to much more “fuller” action scenes, often including more people, guns, and eventually music, simply because the effect that the genre used to have is causing less of an effect on the audience.

This can also be perceived in an alternative way – by taking someone who is used to our genre of shooters when it comes to games and films, and allow them to play or view a media product that holds the older “wild west” feel with that older tension, but because we are so used to the fuller aspect of tension, some people will be desensitized and not feel the same tension than those who lived in the era of that products release.

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