Changes in Audiences and Consumption
How have advances in technology brought about changes in audience trends? Holly Taylor investigates changes in TV viewing habits.
The advent of the television as a popular domestic medium in the second-half of the 20th Century brought together the family as one audience. This novel technology offered a new world of entertainment that was exciting for people of all ages. From programmes such as Coronation Street, launched in 1960, through to EastEnders, first screened in 1985, the family would be brought together to watch the characters live out their lives on screen. It could be argued that these programmes would offer the audience a reflection of their own society, revealing a set of morals and lifestyle choices that the audience would identify as the norm and most likely choose to follow. Therefore, television was a method of constructing a form of collective identity for the viewers as the storylines highlighted family values, friendships and respect for elders; yet the drama and plot twists were simple in comparison with today’s episodes. Changes in the style of soaps is arguably due to a change in audience behaviour. Upon the release of these soaps the audience was restricted as to how and when they could watch their favourite; most houses would only have one television, and limited channels would mean fixed scheduling of the programmes. The family would need to be together at the same time to watch their soaps as there was only one viewing opportunity. Due to technological and media development this began to change. Not only did the number of channels increase, offering chances for repeat scheduling, but the number of televisions in the home also increased. Family members could now watch soaps at different times and in different rooms; the audience had become fragmented. Entertainment no longer brought the family together.

Going online
Consumption was steadily changing, and this was spurred on by further technological developments such as online media. The internet offered a new platform for television to reach its audience; with the launch of media services such as the BBC iPlayer in 2007, audiences could now choose to watch episodes of EastEnders anytime up to seven days after its first play on BBC. Audiences no longer needed to be at home to consume their favourite show; 22 MediaMagazine | December 2010 | english and media centre


5 On Demand courtesy of 5’s Press O ce

they could now create their own scheduling as restrictions lessened. By 2009, the iPlayer had become extremely successful with over 5 million unique streams per week. 86% of these stream requests came from desktop users. Clearly, much of the television audience was no longer in front of a television. Although these new technologies have increased audience choice and enabled the channels to reach wider audiences, it could be argued that this has resulted in programmes such as EastEnders losing the ability to bring together a family and to provide rounded entertainment. As the audience has become more fragmented so have the storylines; no longer focused exclusively on the everyday lives of the characters, the programme has become more thrilling and intense, with characters spanning and reflecting the different groups and ages now consuming the programme in different locations at different times. The audience has become more diverse and no longer satisfied with what was once a novelty, and the soaps reflect this.

a comment made by Eric Huggers, the Director of Future Media and Technology at the BBC:

Whether it is watching EastEnders in your lunch break, listening to Desert Island Discs on the bus or watching Mock the Week in bed, viewing patterns change depending on the time and location of the audience WebUser, 2009
The iPlayer is available over multiple platforms, including internet-enabled televisions, iPhones and games consoles. Other channels have also followed the trend of audience-led scheduling; there is now an online service for all of the terrestrial channels and several of the Sky channels. Although these are not yet as successful as the iPlayer they recognise the importance of meeting audience demand:

we want to make our content available when and where consumers want it as stated by ITV (MSN News, 2010)
The iPlayer has gone from strength to strength, leading the way in television internet services. In January 2010 there were 120 million unique streams, the most popular programmes proving to be Top Gear and Dr Who (WorldTVPC, 2010).

as entertainment, but simply as time-passing activities. The excitement of viewing the peak episode of EastEnders on a Friday night has faded as the audience knows they have several chances to view it, using the experience as an opportunity to fill a gap in our working day or kill time on a journey as we watch on our iPhone. So are we now watching simply because we can, rather than because we want to? The argument that television has lost its entertainment value can be challenged by further recent changes in audience behaviour. The internet has enabled audiences to become involved in media production, with websites allowing them not only to leave feedback and suggestions, but in some cases actually create the content. It could be argued that for some, advances in media have enabled previously impossible opportunities for interaction with the industry. Looking at current consumer trends it appears that the internet is at the forefront and the television may become obsolete. Holly Taylor is a Media Teacher at Long Road Sixth Form College, and a BA (Hons) Film Studies.

The impact of convergence
Over recent years media development has been rapid and convergence has become the centre of modern life. With products such as the iPhone offering multiple devices in one, the audience has come to expect ease and accessibility. Modern audiences are used to having all their desired technology at their fingertips in one product, and this has greatly affected audience consumption. Audience demand has now been met. Now we not only choose when but also where we consume our entertainment; this has been made possible through portability, arguably the most important advance in technology over recent years, as consumers can have a phone, camera, television, and internet connection all in their pocket. Television companies have recognised this essential development, and have adapted to this change in consumption. This is confirmed by

Changing behaviour
These changes in online media technology have successfully met the demands of audience consumption; however, it is also important to consider the possible impact of this on audience behaviour. Over-accessibility may change why the audience chooses to consume in the first place; where once there was a desire to see something that was a novelty and share it with friends and family members, the audience now constantly demands something new, and often watches it in isolation. Our views are no longer shared there and then, but exchanged over social networking sites, or via feedback left on the website forums associated with said programme. The audience is fragmented at every point: on hearing about the potential programme, whilst viewing it, and finally reflecting upon it. It may also be that we no longer seek out programmes

MSN News (2010): ‘Is ITV Player Coming to Google TV, iPad and PS3?’. Retrieved July 27, 2010. From articles.aspx?cp-documentid=153724500 WebUser (2009): ‘iPlayer Viewing Figures Break Records’. Retrieved July 27, 2010. From http:// iplayer-viewing-figures-break-records WorldTVPC (2010): ‘BBC iPlayer Smashes Viewing Figures for January’. Retrieved July 27, 2010. From bbc-iplayer-smashes-viewing-figures-january/

english and media centre | December 2010 | MediaMagazine


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