The end of the audience: How the nature of audiences changed

Patricia Gassner


Entering the ongoing discussion about the so-called “end of the audience”, this paper is concerned with the theory and practice of audience research, as it examined different perspectives of audiences as well as different research approaches. Various different theoretical concepts used to analyse how populations and individuals intersect with culture, society, and the media have been explored in order to give an accurate picture of today’s notion of audiences in a South African context. Overall, findings confirm a shift in the notion of audiences from a mass of passive spectators to active and selective media users equipped with certain “knowledge” depending on social experiences and cultural identities that furthermore determine interpretation of polysemic media messages. The media landscape has changed in recent decades, and today we are faced with a segmented market, serving highly fragmented audiences. These developments recommend looking beyond basic socio-demographic characteristics of media users in an attempt to classify media consumers into more distinctive types of audiences that can then be served according to specific media needs and interests. To do so, it seems necessary to make further distinctions of audiences including psychological characteristics as well as various related variables such as attitudes, tastes, values, norms or (the concept) of lifestyles. The paper concludes with the case of South Africa’s audiences as it is assumed that a wide range of given diversities, as for example regarding languages, races, beliefs, norms, classes, wealth, education and so forth, are significantly contributing to audience fragmentation and suggest adequate media supply.

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