The active audience More recent developments still, suggest that there is a decoding process
going on among the active audience who are not simply using the media for
gratification purposes. Morley's view of dominant, negotiated and oppositional
readings of texts is a semiological approach because it recognises the
importance of the analysis of signs, particularly visual signs, that shape so
much of modern media output. In this model, at its simplest level, the
audience accept or agree with the encoded meanings, they accept and refine
parts of the text's meanings or they are aware of the dominant meaning of the
text but reject it for cultural, political or ideological reasons.
Mode of address Still in line with the active audience idea is the concept of mode of address.
This refers to the way that a text speaks to us in a style that encourages us to
identify with the text because it is 'our' kind of text. For exampleFriends is
intended for a young audience because of the way it uses music and the
opening credits to develop a sense of fun, energy and enthusiasm that the
perceived audience can identify with. This does not mean that other groups
are excluded, merely that the dominant mode of address is targetted at the
young. Mode of address can even be applied to entire outputs, as in the case
of Channel Four which works hard to form a style of address aimed at an
audience which is informed, articulate and in some ways a specialised one.
Newspapers, too, often construct their presentation to reflect what they
imagine is the identity of their typical readers. Compare The Sun andThe
Guardian in this context. Ethnographic model The latest research into audience has resulted in anethnographic model, which means that the researcher enters into the culture of the group and uses questions and interviews to try to understand media engagement from the perspective of the group. What seems to be emerging from this work is a) the focus on the domestic context of reception of media texts
b) the element of cultural competence, and finally
The first of these stresses the fact that engagement with the media is often
structured by the domestic environment because of the domestication of
entertainment and leisure. It appears that the home is not a free space and
there are issues about finance for purchase of media goods, control of the
remote, the gendered nature of watching TV and the 'flow' of TV that fits
alongside or within a set of domestic relationships. So TV viewing may not be
the concentrated, analytical business that some theorists suggest.
The second area is best understood in terms of texts that can be identified as
belonging to a genre that has gender appeal. For example, soaps are usually
seen to have a strong female bias in viewing audience. There is a selection of
competencies that are brought to such texts so knowing about cliffhangers,
the role of the matriarch or the fluid nature of character relationships simply
adds to the pleasures associated with the text. Think about the texts that you
enjoy and even though you know how a text will be shaped or how it will end
these are not barriers to your enjoyment of that text.
Competencies even include the very expectations that you have for the text.
The male preference for news and more factual forms can be seen as a
feature of cultural competence because men occupy more public space than
domestic space and therefore feel the need to be aware of the public worlds
reflected in such texts.
The third area identified relates to the way we engage with the hardware in
order to enjoy the output of the media. There seems to be a strong gender
divide here with computers and complex technology fitting into the category of
'boys’ toys'. If present trends in technology continue then there is a real
danger that just as our society is dividing along lines of information-rich and
information-poor then there will be a further demarcation along gender lines.
This explains why schools and TV programmes need to present positive
gender representations and good practice that supports females and
technological expertise. You will note that many of the lifestyle programmes
that are on TV use females in less traditional roles as a way of redressing the
Overall the shift in the models for audience has gone from mass audience to individual viewer with stress on the active audience rather than the passive model. The level of activity in the implied audience is related to the uses, pleasures, cultural competence, situation and available technology for the particular audience.
Extending the concept of an active audience still further, in the 1980s and 1990s a lot of work was done on the way individuals received and interpreted a text, and how their individual circumstances (gender, class, age, ethnicity) affected their reading.
This work was based on Stuart Hall's encoding/decoding model of the relationship between text and audience - the text is encoded by the producer, and decoded by the reader, and there may be major differences between two different readings of the same code. However, by using recognised codes and conventions, and by drawing upon audience expectations relating to aspects such as genre and use of stars, the producers can position the audience and thus create a certain amount of agreement on what the code means. This is known as a preferred reading.