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Why Are Audiences Such an Important Topic of Discussion and Research for Those Interested in the Media?

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Why are audiences such an important topic of discussion and research for those interested in the media? Why is this discussion and research often controversial?

Without audiences' media consumption, media and its industry will cease to exist. Audience research is therefore one of the most essential studies to analyse and understand. In fact, Webster (1998) declares that "it is hard to imagine any form of media studies that is not, on some level, about audiences". In the past, the media themselves have largely controlled the terms of the audience's social participation; nowadays, the role of audience has completely changed. As Turnbull (2009, 67) states, "The shift from thinking about media audiences in terms of their reception and consumption of specific media to thinking about those audience in terms of what they do with the media is by no recent". The essay aims to discuss and discover the importance of discussing and research media audiences for those interested in the media and why it is often controversial.

There are different reasons why people are interested in audience research, and this depends on how media audience research benefits them. These particular interests include industries such as media producers, public and government, and academics (Turnbull 2009, 69). A great example is when media producers of Big Brother are particularly interested in audience research as the function of commercial media is to deliver audiences to advertisers and therefore knowing who their audiences are and exactly what will attract and hold their attention is crucial (Turnbull 2009, 69). The industry requires this information in order to run a successful show, hence achieve profit gain (Turnbull 2009, 70). The many media platforms and technologies that were involved in the show of Big Brother illustrate the ways in which consumers can participate and interact as media audiences.

Turnbull (2009, 72) states that, the public and government interests in audience research due to concern about the media and its audiences and the fact that they are frequently responsible for what effects media may have on their audiences. In addition, it is crucial for academics to obtain information in regards to the audience in order to further understand the relationship between media and media audience (Mosco and Kaye 2000, 38). Public and government and academics concern tend to involve a specific audience groups, specific content and particular media forms (Turnbull 2009, 72), and these study subjects are usually untaken and perceived in mass, passive audiences. Government and academics' concern over video games and its affect on young people and their violent behaviours demonstrates why audience research is important to them (Livingstone 2005, 22). Researchers examined the effects of media exposure on behaviour and attitudes and concluded that as youth consumes media that portrays violent behaviour, they will have violent behaviour (Livingstone 2005, 24). Although the approaches of this audience research can be controversial, the example demonstrates the importance of this research.

It is evident that audience research is important to the industries, public and government, and academics. However, the ways of their research in regards to audience research and measurement and effects media have on people are rather controversial. According to Webster (1998), in conventional audience research, such as Big Brother, people are typically sorted into a small number of categories and treated as if one person is the functional equivalent of everyone else in the category. In the case of Big Brother, audiences are sorted into watchers and non-watchers of the show. Being fans of the show, they are portrayed as audience who advertisers manipulate in order to gain profit. As Livingstone (2005) declares that, "audience research requires empirical investigation rather than a priori assumptions about audience". Researchers should

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