Networked Media - Where Has All The Audience Gone?

June 12, 2012 Ivan Teh - RunningMan 0 Comments


Networked Media - Where Has All The Audience Gone?



New Media has not replaced Old Media. 


They are two poles of a contiuum of possibilities - Often in conflict with each other, but also dependent on each other. 


All media texts / objects / platforms exist somewhere between these two poles. 


The way we use media also exists between these two poles - Sometimes you’re purely passive (sit back and watch), sometimes you’re a little active (comment on an online article, share a link on FB), sometimes you’re very active and creative (produce your own cooking show and create a channel for it on youtube).

Henry Jenkins: Tension between commodity culture and participatory culture - Culture of passive reception (where you are merely  consuming media products) VS Culture of active enagement (where you both produce and consume in various ways).



Scenario:
I arrive in Singapore last Saturday evening. On my own, looking for something to do, so I think, hey, I’ll go to the movies.


The Lido’s the only cinema in walking distance; there are only two films (out of 8 or so) I want to see (fyi, Avengers, and Dark Shadows).
But by the time I get there, they’re both sold out. What do I do?

Imagine it’s 1990: what are my options?
Read a book?
But I’ve only brought a couple with me, and none of them appeal right now.


Watch TV?
But there’s nothing on that interest me. So I end up channel surfing till I fall asleep.

In 1990 my media options are limited.
Both in terms of what’s available,
And when it’s available.


There are relatively few channels of information (cinemas, TV stations, book publishers).


Few options on those channels (number of films screening, programs on TV, books I have with me).


And much of it is only available when those channels schedule them (screening times, TV schedule).

I can only get what’s made available to me, when it’s made available to me, by a small number of organisations I have no direct contact with.


I am sad. I go to bed.





But it’s not 1990, its 2012.


There are still only a few films at set times, a few TV channels, a few books.


Maybe I might have been able to get to Dark Shadows in time; but I check a fan rating site on the web, and the consensus is it’s not very good. 


But I have other options.


I could see if someone’s made Avengers available illegally on a torrent site, download it, hook my computer up to the big fat TV in my room, and watch it that way.

But I’m not that kind of person, so I could video skype my partner to tell her I miss her.


Perhaps record the video, edit it on my laptop and put the bits where my baby’s being cute onto facebook, and update my status saying I’m bored and lonely. 


Perhaps some friends (anywhere in the world) are on FB and comment right away, and I feel connected, even though I’m alone.

I might check out what others are doing via FB, leave some comments of my own, follow some links people have made to interesting stories in the news.


Or look for YouTube clips to use in lectures, check out some Marvel comics fan sites for anything to do with Avengers, or go to Wikipedia and do some research.




In 1990, I’m limited to what a small number of large organisations put on offer, and mostly when the put it on offer. If I don’t like what’s available, I twiddle my thumbs.


In 2012, I have a vast sea of media channels available to me, made by both large organisations and by creative and active individuals and communities.

If I download the illegal copy of Avengers, I’m bypassing the control of the top down centralised source who seeks to control when, where and how I watch it.


And I’m able to do that because someone has ripped it, and put it on a file sharing site (along with almost every other film, video, song etc. you could imagine).


In other words I’ve bypassed the ‘official’ channel by using one of the millions of other channels now available.

And I in turn am a media channel: my skype chat is a type of mediated communication, but one to one (any to any, at least potentially);
It becomes a media production, and I become a media producer, when I edit it, and publish it on FB.


And FB is a media channel I have constructed to suit my tastes (the content comes from my friends, who share my interests and tastes).
Rather than being stuck with what the people ‘up top’ are offering me.

When I go to Youtube, I’m accessing a vast range of possible channels, mixing both commercial material with user generated content, with people interacting via comments they leave, or via the collective rankings they generate.


When I go to Wikipedia, I access the collective intelligence of everyone who has contributed to it – not just one centralised source of authority, but a collectively generated and evaluated network of knowledge.


(When I check on Rotten Tomatoes to see if Dark Shadows is any good, I’m also accessing the collective intelligence of the people who’ve rated it, and commented on it).

All these possiblities (and more) are a function of new media, and how people choose to use it.


They use it to:
Get what they want, when they want it, where they want it.
Create and share their own media texts.
To access and contribute to the collective knowledge of various communities (from your FB friends, to fan communites, to wikipedia, to youtube, etc.)

BUT:
Notice how a lot (though not all) of that user driven choice, activity, interaction, creation, participation, is generated IN RESPONSE to mainstream media, broadcast, old-style media?

Some of what you see on FB will be strictly personal, but many comments will be in relation to news, films, music, etc. originating from centralised, traditional mass media contexts.


Illegal file sharing is illegal because they’re taking mass media texts away from their owners (the centralised, top down old media companies).


Fan communities organise their active and creative participation around mass media texts, like Harry Potter, or Star Wars, or anime, etc.

AND:
Those ‘old media’ sources (TV stations, film producers, newspapers, etc.) are all also using new media to engage with their audiences
Websites, games, comments, even some user generated content – i.e. TV news using mobile phone footage).


In fact, an ‘old’ media text like the Avengers will very often appear in multiple media forms which overlap, and some of which invite varying degrees of user activity (it’ll be a website with games, clips, links, it’ll be a computer game, it IS already comic books, etc.)
It is in fact a ‘trans media text’ (i.e. Matrix 2 & 3).

Those mainstream media sources (the ones that dominated ‘old’ media) want to use new media to find new ways of engaging the audience.


The rest of us want to use new media to access what we want, when, how and where we want it…


Including stuff we and others make ourselves, which often relies on or relates to what the mainstream gives us.



From Audiences to Niche Communities:
Broadcast media constitutes mass, passive audiences.


The only thing these audience share in common is the messages they receive from above.


They are ‘push’ media.


You don’t choose the time or the content (if you want to watch TV, you’re stuck with what’s on at the time on  7, 9, 10, ABC, SBS).

Networked media doesn’t have‘audiences’ (mass, passive receivers of mass produced messages).


Networked media are ‘pull’ media.


You have to choose to seek a given piece of networked media out of a world (wide web) of choices, available on demand.


People are attracted to a particular example of networked media by a shared interest.


And with a billion people on the net, you can find a community for any interest imaginable.



General Principle Of Networked Media:
Networked media lends itself to communities of interest, not audiences.


These are interactive communities, where ‘interactive’ doesn’t mean ‘choose an option, press a button’ but rather make, share, comment, exchange as part of a community.

Does this mean the ‘End of Mass Communication’?
No.


Not only are ‘traditional/broadcast’ media still a vital part of our media experience…


But a lot (maybe most) of networked communication still replicates a broadcast model.

Networked media just makes it easier to be active in your relation to the media.


But lots of people still remain pretty passive in the way they use the possibilities of convergence/interactivity/networked media.


There are degrees of course – more people comment than share substantial creative content, and more people just read or view than comment.

A rule of thumb often mentioned re. sites that invite user participation/user generated content (i.e., YouTube):
1% contribute regularly.
10% occasionally.
The rest not at all - they are passive consumers (just like broadcast model).
Think about how much YOU do this…

And a large part of the net / web / WWW is dominated by large corporations / businesses.


Who still largely (not entirely) focus on using it to send messages they control from the top down…
Web sites for films...
Newspapers online...


The interaction they mostly want is for you to recommend their stuff to your friends.

This is becoming less true as time goes on – more media organisations are trying to engage more fully with networked media, user generated content and social networks. 


But they always face the problem that the users / social networks don’t necessarily do what the media organisation would like them to.


File sharing, mash ups, fan activism and creation, etc.
They no longer have as much control and authority over how their material is used as they used to.

So ‘new’ media makes it easier to be active in relation to the media.
But a lot of what we do/see in the ‘new’ media world is a lot like ‘old’ media.


And often replicates a broadcast model in a networked environment.



Collective Intelligence:
Shared knowledge is what everyone knows, what you all already share.


But no one here knows everything there is to know, and all of you know something other people don’t.


If you were able put together all the different things that individuals know, and make it possible to share them with everyone else, the sum of that would be your collective intelligence.

Any networked community, niche community, social network, etc. forms a collective intelligence, focusing on their shared interest.



The Challenge Of Peer Communities:
Control of copyright material - Music, DVDs, now films.


Control of message - Spoofs, parodies, etc. 


Control of use - PVRs, sampling, etc.


Maintaining your audience as a mass audience.



The Benefit Of Peer Communities:
Viral marketing - Sophisticated media consumers are less open to media manipulation (advertising), but are influenced by peer groups.


AUTHENTICITY! - Viral marketing uses p2p communication to do this.
Use the web to create a cult community around your product - Fan Fiction, etc. 


Use the community to make your product - Game Beta Testing, Storyline development for TV, etc. 


Use the niche nature of networked media to target specific audiences directly - Lead your advertisers straight to the market they want, rather than scattergun mass advertising.



Conclusion:
Networked media do present real challenges to traditional mass media, but opportunities as well.


They will not replace mass media, but they will engage it, alter it and participate in it (whether mass media wants them to or not).


They can also act parallel to the mass media, providing alternatives, providing critique, providing access to a wider group of voices, doing things the mass media can’t.





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