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Media Audiences

Media Audiences
Effects, Users, Institutions, and Power

Second Edition

August 2019 | 368 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
Whether we are watching TV, surfing the Internet, listening to our iPods, or reading a novel, we all engage with media as an audience. . Despite the widespread use of this term in our popular culture, the meaning of "audience" is complex, and it has undergone significant historical shifts as new forms of mediated communication have developed from print, telegraphy, and radio to film, television, and the Internet. Media Audiences: Effects, Users, Institutions, and Power 2nd Edition explores the concept of media audiences from four broad perspectives: as "victims" of mass media, as market constructions and commodities, as users of media, and as producers and subcultures of mass media. The goal of the text is for students to be able to think critically about the role and status of media audiences in contemporary society, reflecting on their relative power in relation to institutional media producers.

Chapter 1. History and Concept of the Audience
What Is an Audience?

History of Early Audiences

Audiences and Notions of Power

Conclusion: Constructing Audiences Through History and Theory

Discussion Activities

Additional Materials


Chapter 2. Effects of Media Messages
Origins of Media Effects Theories in the Early 20th Century

Mass Society Theory and the Payne Fund Studies

The War of the Worlds Broadcast and the Direct Effects Model

Mass Propaganda Concerns and World War II Communication Research

Postwar Communication Research: The Rise of the Limited Effects Paradigm

Effects of Media Violence

Conclusion: Enduring Concern Over Media Effects

Discussion Activities

Additional Materials


Chapter 3. Public Opinion and Audience Citizenship
A Brief History of Public Opinion

Survey Methods and the Public Opinion Industry

Public Opinion and the Limits of Audience Constructions

How News Shapes Public Opinion

Conclusion: The Construction of Public Opinion and Its Implications for Democracy

Discussion Activities

Additional Materials


Chapter 4. Media Ratings and the Political Economy of Audiences
The Political Economic Approach to Communication

Political Economy and the Commodity Audience

Ratings and the Construction of the Audience Product

Measuring Audiences: The Ratings System

Ratings, Market Research, and the Audience Commodity: Assigning Market Value to Mass Audiences

Conclusion: How Effective Is Institutional Control Over Audiences?

Discussion Activities

Additional Materials


Chapter 5. Uses and Gratifications
Early Examples of Uses and Gratifications in Communication Research

The Uses and Gratifications Approach

Expectancy-Value Approaches to Uses and Gratifications

Social Uses of Media

The Uses and Dependency Approach

Conclusion: Refocusing on Audience Power

Discussion Activities

Additional Materials


Chapter 6. Interpreting and Decoding Mass Media Texts
The Rise of Critical Cultural Studies

Interpretation and Semiotics

Ideology, Screen Theory, and the Critical Paradigm

The Birmingham School and the Encoding/ Decoding Model

The Nationwide Audience Studies

Gender and Media Interpretation: Soap Operas, Romances, and Feminism

Cross-Cultural Reception of Popular Media

Race, Ethnicity, and Audience Decoding: Viewers Interpret The Cosby Show

Open Texts and Popular Meanings

Intertextuality and Interpretive Communities

Revisiting Encoding/Decoding in the 21st Century

Conclusion: Interpretation and Audience Power

Discussion Activities

Additional Materials


Chapter 7. Reception Contexts and Media Rituals
Media in Context: Notions of Space and Time

Media Reception in the Domestic Sphere

Media and Everyday Life in the Domestic Context

Media Rituals: Another Reception Context

Conclusion: Audiences in Context

Discussion Activities

Additional Materials


Chapter 8. Media Fandom and Audience Subcultures
Defining Fan Cultures

Fan Cultures and Interpretive Activity

Fans and Textual Productions

Fans and Cultural Hierarchy: The Limits of Textual Reinterpretation

Conclusion: Fans, Creativity, and Cultural Hierarchy

Discussion Activities

Additional Materials


Chapter 9. Online, Interactive Audiences in a Digital Media World
Digitalization, Fragmentation, Platforms, and the Rise of Audience Autonomy

Big Data and Online Audience Metrics

Audience Agency, Creativity, and Democratic Participation

Crowdsourcing Media Production: Wikis and Blogs

Questioning Audience Power in the Networked Information Society: Issues of Media Ownership, Surveillance, and Labor Exploitation

Conclusion: Networked Creativity Meets Undercompensated Labor

Discussion Activities

Additional Materials


Chapter 10. Conclusion: Audience Studies in an Era of Datafication
The Rise of Mobile, Transmedia Experiences in the Post-Network Era

The New Economics of Audience Aggregation

Rediscovering Media Audiences in the 21st Century

Charting a Course for Audience Studies: The 2030 Agenda


Additional Materials


About the Author

"Great introduction for Level 4."

Paula Hearsum
University of Brighton

"The best book in the field right now."


"Good primer for students, you can’t go wrong with this."


"Yes, it links theory with examples and research. The only thing close is Abercrombie and that book is hugely dated. I see it as a successor to Abercrombie."

Robbie Smyth
Griffith College – Dublin

"Sullivan has written a lucid and challenging introduction to the study of media audiences from both scholarly and industry perspectives. The complex conceptual material will stimulate and engage the most curious students while providing practical directions for emerging scholars and professionals."

Robert Huesca
Trinity University

Comprehensive on the subject.

Dr Audrey Laing
School of Creative and Cultural Business, Robert Gordon University
November 21, 2022

This book is a very informative book. It provides detailed descriptions and concepts for studying media audiences.

Dr Supathida Kulpavaropas
Mass Communications, Mahidol University International College
April 20, 2022

Focusing on audience is a unique perspective for an introductory course. Students are thinking about media in new ways. Also, excellent inclusion of digital media--not as a sidebar but as integrated into the text.

Dr Linda Levitt
Communications Dept, Stephen F Austin State University
October 5, 2021
Key features
  • A wide range of audience theories and issues covered in the text provides a central location where students can discover an overview of audience theories, explore the field, and find specific topics that are of interest to them to utilize for essays or for other out-of-class work.

  • Media case studies help illustrate concepts, facilitate a deeper understanding of the theories by relating them to concrete examples, aid in classroom discussion, and encourage students to immediately apply the theories that they have just read.

  • Coverage of media communities of fans and of new media audiences, including World of Warcraft gamers and YouTube users, offers inclusive and up-to-date information about audiences which will resonate with students in today's media-saturated culture.

  • Classroom discussion questions and activities, links to relevant Internet resources, and numerous examples facilitate students' understanding of the material and provide excellent ideas for classroom activities to allow students' further exploration of concepts in the chapter.

  • Lists of recommended readings for each chapter are incredibly valuable because they direct students to relevant and accessible scholarly writings that can be used as an initial point for longer essays on audience theories.

  • Clear and consistent writing style in every chapter enhances student understanding.



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