Communication Technology and New Media


This paper proposes and develops a model of audience evolution. The concept of audience evolution in this case refers to the notion that the dominant framework employed by media industry stakeholders (content producers, distributors, advertisers, media buyers, etc.) to conceptualize the audience evolves in response to environmental changes. These environmental changes primarily involve technological changes that simultaneously transform the dynamics of media consumption as well as the dynamics of gathering information on various dimensions of audience behavior. These technological changes also interact with one another, in that the technological changes that affect the dynamics of media consumption also simultaneously provide new means of gathering information on previously umeasurable aspects of audience behavior. These technological changes, and their economic and strategic implications, are then filtered through a process of stakeholder resistance and negotiation, out of which new institutionalized conceptualizations of the media audience emerge. This paper asserts a causal relationship between the decline of traditional exposure metrics and the emergence of alternative conceptualizations of audience behavior. That is, the extent to which the fragmentation of the media environment is undermining the long-institutionalized exposure-focused conceptualization of the audience is creating an environment of exploration of – and receptivity toward – alternative conceptualizations of the audience that are derived from dimensions of audience behavior that are better capturable in today’s increasingly fragmented, increasingly interactive media environment. This pattern suggests that the institutionalized audience is a very malleable construct; something that evolves in response to environmental conditions in order to facilitate the continued functioning of the audience marketplace.