New Media Convergence and Audience Fragmentation and Programme Content in International Broadcasting
The new media technologies have been referred to as the communication revolution due to the immense changes they have brought to mass communication and social lifestyles in past decade or so. The expression ‘new media’ has been in use since the 1960s and has had to encompass an expanding and diversifying set of applied communication technologies such the it is somehow impracticable to tell just what the ‘new media’ comprise.
As far as the essential features of new media are concerned, however, the main ones seem to be: their interconnectedness; their accessibility to individual users as senders or receivers; their interactivity; their multiplicity of use and open-ended character; and their ubiquity and almost limitless extended located-ness. The new media could be said to have brought a communications revolution because it seems to have brought a revolt against mass communication and all that it used to stand for. The two main driving force of this communications revolution are satellite communication and computer technologies.
The key to the immense power of the computer as a communication device lies in the process of digitalization that allows information of all kinds in all formats to be carried with the same efficiency and also in a multiplex. New means of transmission by cable, satellite and radio have immensely increased the capacity to transmit. New means of storage and retrieval including the personal video recorder, the mobile phone, CD-ROM, compact disc, DVD, etc, have also expanded the range of possibilities, and even the remote control device has played a part.
The many possibilities of ‘media-making’ (camcorders, PCs, printers, cameras, etc, especially in digital form) have changed immensely the practice of journalism whether print or broadcast, such that the amateur or the professional are being bridged. There are also new kinds of ‘quasi-media’ such as computer games and virtual reality devices which seem to be overlapping with the mass media in their culture and in the satisfaction of use. The communications revolution has being of benefit to traditional media and the audience due mainly to the interactivity that has become possible.
What is the nature of convergence? Convergence is the coming together of different technologies, the fusion of two or more technologies to form something new and different, something that has attributes of each but is altogether unique. The new technologies and products that result from convergence are greater than the sum of the original parts, and the two most powerful and pervasive technologies – information and media are converging. The result of convergence has been called ‘techno-fusion’. What are the differences between the old and the new?
Today the differences between the old and new are difficult to distinguish partly because some media forms are now distributed across different types of transmission channels, reducing the original uniqueness of form and experience in use. Also, the increasing convergence of technology, based on digitalization, can only reinforce this tendency. Thirdly, globalization has reduced the distinctiveness of domestic content and institutions and as such content and practices are becoming global or universal though some are domesticated variants of the global.
Nevertheless, there are some clear differences in terms of physical and psychosocial characteristics, in terms of perceived trust and credibility for example. Differences are obvious concerning freedom and control where the new seems to be freer and less controlled especially by government. Secondly, differences are clear concerning what each is good for and the perceived uses by individual audience members. What is New Media? New media rely on digital technologies, allowing for previously separate media to converge.
Media convergence is defined as a phenomenon of new media and this can be explained as digital media. The idea of new media captures both the development of unique forms of digital media, and the remaking of more traditional media forms to adopt and adapt to the new media technologies. Convergence captures the development futures of old media and merges it with new media. Blogs, and Podcasts are all part of new media. MySpace and Facebook are part of social media (also known as viral marketing), which is a branch of new media.
What is new about the new media? It is pertinent at this point to understand that a medium is not just an applied technology for transmission of certain symbolic content or of linkage among people but that it also embodies a set of social relations that interact with features of the new technology. There are some evidences that mass media have changed from the past two or three decades from the days of one-way, one-directional and undifferentiated flow to an undifferentiated mass audience due to certain features of new technology.
What is new is basically due to the fact of digitalization and convergence. Digitalization is the process by which texts can be reduced to binary form and used in production, distribution and storage. Convergence is the digital linkage and symbiosis between media forms in terms of organization, distribution, reception and regulation. Mcquail (2006) has defined convergence as the process of coming together or becoming more alike of media technologies due to digitalization. The new media transcends the limit of traditional print and broadcast in the following ways: ?
It enables many-to-many conversations ?It enables the simultaneous reception, alteration and redistribution of cultural products ? It dislocates communicative action beyond national boundaries bringing in the ‘death of the distance’ across the world More succinctly, what is new about the new media may be the combination of interactivity with innovative features such as, the unlimited range of content and content format, the scope of audience reach, and the global nature of communication.
Other features include, that the new media are as much private and public communication and that their operation is not typically professional or bureaucratically organized to the same degree as the mass media. Another feature of the new media is that the boundaries between publisher, producer, distributor, consumer and reviewer of content are blurring, leading to a general meltdown of roles that may result in the emergence of separate, more specialized institutional complexes of media skills and activities. Audience Fragmentation and Programme Content in International Broadcasting Countries and cultures have long been in communication across borders; however, in the 20th century, first radio, then television and the internet accelerated that process dramatically. National leaders are often unnerved when broadcasts or other information comes straight across borders without any chance to stop, control, or mediate it.
In the 1930s and 1940s, around World War II and the cold war, radio seemed menacingly effective in propaganda across borders. Radio competitions and clashes, even some miniature cold wars of their own, erupted among a number of countries in the Asia, Middle East, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the West and USA. By contrast, broadcast television seemed comfortingly short range as it took preeminence from the late 1940s on. Satellite television was the next big technological development in international broadcasting.
As early as the 1960s controversies started concerning the use of this type of transmission for fear of the propaganda and intrusion into national borders. The debate culminated in a schism between the developed and the developing regions of the world concerning cultural imperialism, media imperialism and the imbalance in news flow across the globe. The global spread of satellite and cable TV channels in the 1990s has seemed to increase the outflow of American and European television programming and films to other countries.
The internet has become the latest major t technology to deliver radio, television, music downloads, video downloads, films, news stories, newspapers, and new forms of content, like weblogs, across national and cultural borders. The growth of the internet in the late 1990s and 2000s has also threatened the ability of national governments to control cross-border flow of information and entertainment. The internet continues to bring a great deal of content from the USA and the West into other parts of the world.
However, it also much cheaper to produce either information or entertainment for the internet, so many governments, cultures, religion, and ideologies now produce for and distribute over the internet. Governments dominated activity in international radio, despite early developments and precedents from commercial international shortwave broadcasting prior to World War II. However, it seems private actors instead of governments now dominate global television news and entertainment.
What are the implications for the audience of the shift from government international radio broadcasting to private international satellite television? What of the further shift on the internet to supplement or replace the dominance of major international radio and international commercial TV? What of the implications of the fact that most radio audiences today tend to be quite localized, given a choice, particularly with the spread of higher fidelity stereo FM broadcasts, which deliver the best available radio sound quality but seldom cover more than a limited urban area?
What are the motivations for broadcasting internationally? Four major reasons have been adduced for both state-run and private organizations transmitting directly across borders: to enhance national or organizational prestige; to promote national or organizational interests; to attempt religious, ideological or political indoctrination; and to foster cultural ties. When governments are the primary actors as it is here, the goal is often summed up as public diplomacy. That is the deliberate effort by governments to affect foreign public opinion in a manner that is positive to their goals.
Public diplomacy may be defined as the influencing in a positive way the perceptions of individuals and organizations across the world. Another perspective on this sees motivations in terms of: being an instrument of foreign policy, as a mirror of society, as symbolic presence, as a converter and sustainer, as a coercer and intimidator, as an educator, as an entertainer, and as a seller of goods and services. Evidence of the importance that governments attach to international broadcasting can be found in their total commitment to funding and support using diverse models as may be found in BBC, VOA, Radio Moscow, RFI, etc.
Similarly, as the internet now permits a greater variety of players to broadcasting, many more have entered to pursue all or some of similar goals. Why audiences listen or view across borders? According to the categories of listening motivations listed by Boyd (1996) as cited by Straubhaar and Boyd (2003), audiences tune in to hear news and information, to be entertained, to learn, to hear religious or political broadcast, to enhance their status, to protest, or to pursue a hobby.
Concerning the question of media effects on audience in international broadcasting, the available studies show that the effects of international radio broadcasting are relatively limited. Nevertheless, there are at least some historical cases in which international radio as part of public diplomacy had considerable impact. Radio Free Europe clearly had a role in fomenting the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The USA conducted ‘radio wars’ against Cuba and Nicaragua fomenting refugee flight if nothing else.
The use of radio in international broadcasting is changing decisively; however, as most of the services are moving away from transmitting on shortwave radio and moving towards re-broadcasting or re-transmitting on leased local FM facilities and also supplementing these efforts by web casting. Today, international radio broadcasters tend to put their signals out as streaming audio feeds on the internet. International radio is also sometimes sought by those who do not trust the local or national media readily available to then.
This and other factors may be affecting the international audience in the direction of fragmentation. Few international broadcasters today have anything resembling a mass audience, instead they have fragments of core listeners of viewers who are attracted by tradition or habit or interests in specific programming such as news, music, documentaries, sports and so on. Audience Fragmentation in International Broadcasting The rise of new media has brought the question of audience fragmentation and selective exposure to the front burner of concerns by the broadcast media.
This is because audience fragmentation has emerged as the inevitable consequence of audience diversity based on diversity of participation and reception that have been enhanced immensely by the convergence of media technologies. Audience fragmentation may also be due to diversity of media content and the loyalty or otherwise of the audience to these various programmes. In the same way there are many broadcast channels and stations even at the external broadcasting level such that loyalties may have become fragmented over the multitude of international stations available to the audience.
The array of broadcast options available to the audience may have thus created a remarkable degree of audience fragmentation. There has been created a new multi-platform world due to the convergence of new media. For example, the number of listeners or viewers who now use their PCs or mobile phones for monitoring the newscast instead of waiting for specific time periods of broadcast from their station of choice usually on traditional media may be increasing as more and more people adopt several new media options available to them.
Such fragments of listeners or viewers may actually replace their traditional media channels with the ones they now have in multimedia. Some viewers now choose to watch news highlights on the web at their convenience rather than the scheduled news cast they used to frequent. Traditional broadcasters cannot afford to ignore cable and satellite operators as well as the web, mobile and other alternative distribution channels who may have contributed to the fragmentation of their traditional audience.
Today media scholars and practitioners have continued to debate whether the mass audience really exists any more or whether mass audience has not become a myth. This issue or question persists because they challenge them to re-think presumed givens of the past while also providing a framework within which to examine the undeniable evidence of fragmentation of the broadcast audience today. As information and communication technologies increasingly become available and affordable to people and are more widely adopted news and current affairs media may have to strategize on ow to move away from being mass media to media targeting and specific niche programming and distribution. The external channel may have to do some audience research to find out what type of audience are disengaging form their traditional media and for what reasons. So also the world-view of such audience may have to be ascertained and embedded in programme content so as to attract the audience. Other forms of distribution that may compliment the traditional may have to be considered and appropriated. How to view and review the audience against the backdrop of fragmentation?
Any evaluation of audience should start with a disturbing doubt about the continuing validity of the term. On the threshold of an era in which pressing a button summons any song, stock number or movie episode on display anywhere in the house and ‘grazing’ and ‘on demand’ viewing or listening replace the regular traditional listening or viewing habits. The notion of audience as a community or solidarity group, or as a form of involvement in a text which one has not summoned or invented oneself, a text that can surprise, becomes problematic.
The danger to audiences posed by their disembodiment into individual dreams bubbles, or their disappearance into time-shift recorders who never find time to listen or view, is not as close as the technologies that allow it. The conditions underlying identity, sociality and community are slower to change than technologies. We know that the world cup or the English league or the Olympic Games find us attending as faithful audience members, be it within the community, the nation or even the globe.
These examples however suggest that the term ‘audiences’ is too general. Fans may be more fitting in the case of football, and ‘public’ in the case of an al-Qaida attack. But, whether listening or viewing as we used to know it is seriously threatened, the acutely destabilizing transformations of communication technologies suggest that the concept of ‘audience’ should be studied in tandem with its counterpart: the dominant media and genre it faces.
Those changing technologies also suggest that the way in which audiences are situated – is everyone listening or viewing at the same content, are they listening or viewing alone or together, are they talking or silent, is the transmission live or recorded – is inseparable from characteristics of the media they interact with, marked by their technological and institutional characteristics, and the ways in which they perceive their consumers. The larger picture suggests that the contemporary media environment holds two types of threats to audiences.
One is the abundance of what is offered, chasing viewers or listeners to an endless choice of niche channels or stations and time-shift options which may operate as a boomerang pushing us to turn on good old broadcast radio or TV and find out what is on. The second threat is the internet. It has been contended that internet user are not really ‘audiences’ as it can not be seen as an electronic mass medium but rather as an umbrella, multi-purpose technology, loaded with a broad range of disparate communication functions, such as shortcutting mediators in the management of daily life.
In reality the internet fosters audiences but goes beyond that to provide a myriad of services that may not be in the mode of mass communication especially as it does not fulfill the need of listening or viewing texts over which audiences have no direct control and /or texts that enable the suspending of unbelief. Assuming that in spite of the dramatic transformation in the media environment, audiences are still alive, so do the technologies that nurture them , what follows is a review of the changes undergone by mass media audiences and the ways in which these changes were defined.
A very useful scheme to define audiences categorizes them into three: citizens, consumers and jugglers. The audience is categorized thus based on the historical progression of broadcasting through three eras, moving from ‘scarcity’ to ‘availability’ to ‘plenty’. Each phase carries an image of the audience. Scarce broadcasting addresses audiences as a unified mass of ‘citizens’ while available broadcasting addresses them as individual ‘consumers’.
Today’s broadcasting of plenty seems to be addressing lonely ‘jugglers’ somewhat paralyzed by endless choice, offering listeners or viewers to either commute between isolated niches or listen or view broadcast as ‘impotent witnesses’. Ellis (2000) as cited by Straubhaar and Boyd (2003), implied that in the first era of scarcity of broadcast, radio and then TV address ‘citizens’ who in the period of availability turn into ‘consumers’ and in the phase of plenty become ‘jugglers’.
The ‘citizen’ is a passive audience’ often comprising a lonely crowd subjected to broadcast directed at the mass audience as such broadcast reaches all groups uniformly, but this is soon changed to the ‘consumer’ who is an active audience who has choices and multiple interpretations and plurality of ways of getting involved and varying tastes that can be addressed. The age of plenty provides endless options for activity for the ‘juggler’ audience, but raises the issue of how such activities should be defined.
Here, near endless choices weakens commitment and makes the audience to resort to juggling between competing programmes, stations or channels, or media. The monstrous dimensions of choice in this present phase may be leading in two directions. As indicated by Ellis, jugglers can choose between retreating to any obscure, esoteric, isolating niche of broadcasting or joining the citizens and /or consumers by turning to broadcast of traditional radio or TV. What is the implication of audience fragmentation for programme content?
Following the identification of today’s audience as a ‘juggler’ audience due to fragmentation the main programme content strategy should border on how to retain the core listeners and viewers and provide niche programmes at the same time. This requires audience research on a more or less continuous basis. International broadcast channels may have to imitate the local FM channels that have mastered the art of creating programme formats that make them unique even where there is a proliferation.
The BBC and VOA do a lot of audience research but hardly make them public but they have started utilizing re-distribution and re-transmission on local FM in some regions of world and also making their presence available on the internet and on satellite and cable. What are the prospects of new media? The new media have been widely hailed as a potential way of escape from the oppressive top-down politics of mass democracies in which tightly organized political parties make policy unilaterally and mobilize support behind them with minimal negotiation and grass-roots input.
They provide the means for the provision of information and ideas, almost unlimited access for all voices and much feedback and negotiation between sender and receiver in the mass media. They promise new forums for the development of interest groups and formation of opinion, and allow social dialogue without the inevitable intervention of governmental institutions or state machineries. They promise true forms of freedom of expression that may be difficult to control by government. There is the prospect of a reduced role for professional journalist to mediate between citizen and government and to mediate in the public sphere generally.
There is also the promise of absence of boundaries, greater speed of transmission and low cost of operations compared to traditional media. The biggest prospect is the ready access for all who want to speak, unmediated by the powerful interests that control the content of print and broadcast. What are the challenges? The new media are no different from the old in terms of social stratification of ownership and access. It is the better-offs that can access and upgrade the new technologies and they are always ahead of the working class or the poor.
They are differentially empowered and if anything move further ahead of majority of the people. The new media require new skills and new attitudes to learning and working. There must be the attitude of life-long learning to catch up with new skills demanded by the pace of technological changes. There is also the issue of multi-tasking and its burden or otherwise on the users of new media technologies. Finally, there is overriding challenge of control and diminishing of the freedom of new media.
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