The Simple, Mass and Diffused Audience


Everyday we are part of an audience, there is literally no escape from the performances the media give us.    

It might be waking up to the sound of the radio, listening to your ipod on your way to work or reading the adverts on the side of a bus, we are all part of an audience at some point during the day.  The truth is people of industrialised countries probably spend more time in the company of media than we do with people face to face, whether it is at work, at school or in the home.  Looking back to our parents generation growing up, it was quite possible they had one television in their sitting room and perhaps more commonly a radio somewhere in their house.  In today’s modern household, we have a huge choice of where we get our entertainment fix from.  A very high percentage of us have the internet, and with that we need a vehicle upon which to use it.  Computers, laptops and increasingly more common, mobile phones and PDA’s are all used for this purpose, allowing us to seek out information and entertainment and what’s more, use it while we are mobile. 

Television is changing, with the many, many channels available to us, it appears to be becoming more fan-based, and perhaps it is adapting to suit an ever more picky society.  Television converges with other information and communication technologies such as radio, print, computing and telephony and much of this convergence is mediated by the internet.


 As a result, the activity of viewing to which we have devoted so much attention is converging with reading, shopping, playing games, going to the library, writing letters and so forth.  And it occurs anytime, anyplace, anywhere.  (Gillespie, M: 44)  

With audiences fitting the description of a group who listens and watches, it is hard to define a single audience for the Internet.  After all, there is much to be done on the internet including chatting to friends, playing games and searching for information.


 So, rather than each new medium replacing what went before, in practice we find an accumulation of modes of ‘audiencing’- as we add listening to reading, viewing to listening, surfing to viewing, and so on.’ (Gillespie, M: 44)  

The term ‘user’ as in media user is not appropriate for the internet as it infers the audience is singular and not a collective, after all the term mass media implies communication from one to many.  Although it could be argued that program audiences are getting smaller and smaller due to the amount of material there is to be an audience to.  Many new channels on satellite and a massive amount of forms of entertainment on the internet such as YouTube, Flickr and news websites mean that there is more choice to the audience.


These different forms of audience are split up and defined by Abercrombie and Longhurst using three broad phases in audience history.


 ·         The simple audience – face-to-face, direct communication, in public, oftenhighly ritualised – as in the theatre or political meeting 

·         The mass audience – highly mediated, spatially – even globally – dispersed,often in private – as in the newspaper readership or television audience 

·         The diffused audience – strongly dispersed and fragmented, yet at the same time embedded in or fused with all aspects of daily life; characterised by routine and casual inattention and yet always present – as in the ‘always on’ internet connection, multitasked with television, conversation and working from home.(Gillespie, M: 45)  

New phases add to these phases rather than replacing the older phases, even though they are historically sequenced thus resulting in three simultaneous contemporary modes of audience experience. 

In terms of simple audiences, it is still common for people to visit cinemas, theatres and attend political meetings, although not as frequent as it might once be. 


The technology behind the mass audience is something that could quite easily be phased out sometime soon but probably will never be.  To collect daily news from the internet is an achievable task for most people, and a huge amount do, but the majority of the time they take their internet news in conjunction with a newspaper.  Similarly with television news, it is updated far more than a newspaper could ever be, the cost would be too much, but a lot of people like the act of sitting down with a newspaper. 

Television is becoming more readily available on the internet with services such as Channel 4’s ‘On Demand’ and the BBC’s “i-player” which gives the viewer the chance to search the archive for a programme they missed and download it.  It is possible to watch television digitally on the internet but until the monitor more closely resembles a television screen and can sit in the corner of a lounge, it may not take off, especially for older people. 


With the internet an ever present threat for television writers and producers, it is very important to make the mass media entertainment a gripping response to what the audience wants.  Unfortunately commercial television production is determined by a single industrial aim: to create programmes that will generate a regular and committed mass audience able to satisfy the demands of advertisers.  The way it attracts this mass audience is through entertaining people, offering a significant number of shows that provide a consistent and familiar source of pleasure.  Sponsorship of television programmes and series has become common place and one of the most noticeable and long standing examples of this was Cadbury’ sponsorship of Coronation Street.  Brands are always looking at viewer demographics which are useful to them; Bailey’s alcoholic drink was the sponsor for Sex and the City and had exactly the same target demographics as the show. 


Some people are no longer satisfied with merely sitting back and passively watching television, they prefer interactive entertainment where they can get involved with the show they are watching.  An example of this is the BBC’s Test the Nation, the viewer can enter their answers through their digital television and have their scores added up for them.  Active audiences do not need to be restricted to television; an example of this through the radio is the Chris Moyles show on Radio 1.  A short while ago, Moyles dropped a feature and asked the audience to text the show using their mobile phones to decide which of the two songs he had chosen, they would like played.  A staggering three thousand people contacted the show via text within seven minutes of Moyles asking, all with the feeling that they were a part of the show, he now regularly request the audience opinion on a huge variety of subjects, many of which are quite trivial.  This is actually quite a clever way of refining and adapting the show as he is able to gauge his audience’s views and wants on an almost daily basis, they are even paying for the privilege! Also Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills regularly appeals to his audience to download the latest weird and wonderful song he has found on the internet; he has even managed to get the song “The Ladies Bra’s” into the download charts purely by his listener’s loyalty as it would never have achieved this without his pleas.

Has our demand for interactive entertainment been introduced by the internet?


Returning to Abercrombie and Longhurst model of the three audiences, the diffused audience is the last type we shall visit. 

Longhurst writes about the diffused audience:


The essential feature of this audience experience is that, in contemporary society, everyone becomes an audience all the time.  Being a member of an audience is no longer an exceptional event, nor even an everyday event.  Rather it is constitutive of everyday life.  This is not a claim that simple audiences or mass audiences no longer exist, quite the contrary.  These experiences are common as ever, but they take place against the background of a diffused audience.  (Longhurst, B: 261)  

Several social processes are related to the development of the diffused audience.  First, people spend increasing amounts of time in media consumption. Second, such consumption is increasingly woven into the fabric of everyday life. Third, western societies have become more performative in the broadest sense. A good example of this is the extension of performance and consumption around contemporary weddings. 

Abercrombie and Longhurst believe it is necessary to consider the interaction between the simple, mass and diffused audience when studying the development of the diffused audience.


For example, the relationship between the seemingly increasing importance of attending live performances and festivals which are on one simple level audience experiences. However, these can also be relayed via the mass media, as at Glastonbury. and therefor become mass televisual experiences, and diffused as aspects of identity work in everyday life. (Longhurst, B: 261) 

In terms of the diffused audience, it is only getting stronger and larger.  There may be more requirements for safety and censorship, the more mainstream it gets, but there is no dampening its popularity.  It is a useful tool in schools as it links education with fun and perhaps more freedom. 

But there are some questions about its invasiveness, there seems to be no escape from it.  It brings our offices into our homes, enabling a lot more of us to work from home, making us contactable more than maybe we would like, however it also has the opposite effect by bringing the home into work with many people now having the ability to perform home based tasks from work, e.g. shopping, banking, recording TV programmes remotely and access to virtual communities and personal email in some companies.  Does this provide boost in efficiency? Or does it simply mean that our work and home lives have become intrinsically linked and we are now never permitted to shut off completely?