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A more radical shift in focus was to move away from what impact the media has on audiences, towards investigating why or how audiences react to the media. Based on the assumption that audiences are not passive or powerless but instead exercise choice, researchers developed the uses and gratifications model. This explains the process audiences employ when deciding their response to advertisements – do they respond by shopping more, or do they ignore it? The uses and gratifications paradigm views audiences as active seekers of media that best fulfills their needs, or that reinforces their existing beliefs and interests. Using the earlier example, a person looking for a new dress will actively look out for advertisements for sales on dresses, and respond positively to them. A person with no desire for a new outfit will simply ignore the same advertisements.

The earliest researcher in this area was Herta Herzog who, in 1944, identified emotional needs, wishful thinking, and the desire to learn new things as some of the reasons people turn to the media. Later researchers built on Herzog’s work by re-categorising and expanding this set of motivators. Branston & Stafford’s research (2010, p.388) identified and summarised them into five groups:

1) cognitive: audiences make use of the media to learn.

2) affective: audiences seek out media content that satisfies their emotional needs.

3) tension release: media provides a source of relaxation to audiences.

4) personal integrative: audiences tune in to media content that helps them explore issues related to the construction of their personal identity.

5) social integrative: audiences seek out media content that explores issues of relevance to their social identity.

The importance of this model is largely that it dismisses the idea of the media as able to change people’s opinions. What it does is reinforce the status quo, where the media is satisfying audience need and desires.

Next up: agenda-setting

Discussion:

Think of Shortland Street and other Soap operas. What are uses and gratifications that watchers might follow?

Now think of TV series that you are watching regularly. Why are you watching them? Line up possible uses and gratifications.

Previously: Minimal effects models

Related: Two-step flow model

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