As a variety of people who read our blog know, the Consortium has been engaged since its launch in researching the ways in which the audience is constructed. While the media industries, and business parlance in general, often discuss what is known as "the consumer," discussion of those who access digital tools often refer to people as "users." We often discuss "audiences" and use the term "fans" in particular to describe the more engaged of those audience members as a way to insert agency back into the discussion of relationships between media producers and brands and those who support their products, rather than a construction in which the power is presumed to lie primarily in the hands of those who make the products, be they cultural products or goods and services.
This motivation and concern, along with our increased interest in studying online video, were the motivations behind C3 Research Manager Joshua Green's presentation at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference earlier this month. Joshua joined alongside other scholars studying YouTube, in light of our own work inside the Consortium at present on the video sharing site, not to present the particulars of what we've found in our early analysis of Youtube content but rather to talk about how to approach these new venues, and how to understand those who use these tools to consume and create content.
Joshua's presentation was entitled "The People Formerly Known As: What Happens to the Audience When We're All 'Users'?"
Joshua began by combing through the variety of complicated metaphors and neologisms used to discuss the audience, including terms such as "viewser," "produser," and so on. Joshua then looked at how online video is changing the conception of what television is, for instance, by removing it from the set and service television was formerly defined by. In particular, as an illustrative example, he looked at the turf war between the Daytime Emmy Awards and the Primetime Emmy Awards regarding broadband video content, as the primetime Emmys challenged the Daytime Emmys' creation of awards for broadband video, because they felt they were the pre-iminent awards for content. The argument from the daytime Emmys, of course, is that there's nothing that links online video content to either time of day, since on-demand and streaming video is no longer linked to the flow of a television schedule.
This battle is emblematic to the many ways in which the long-held notions of the media industries is challenged by the growing promenance of a new disruptive force, in this case the capabilities of what we often call "Web 2.0" or "convergence culture." So, what television is today refers instead to television as a form of content rather than a format, at least in some ways, and brings into question the relationship between the audience and the viewer, when access to these videos are spread across multiple sites and no longer linked to a particular time on the schedule.
Finally, Joshua's presentation on the panel led to a particularly fascinating exchange about the conception of the fan. Joshua talked about his own ambivalence with the term and study of fans, because it often seems that, in reacting against the marginalization of fans at one point, many people have constructed fans solely as "lead users." I agree that this is problematic as the only way to understand more active engagement with a media property or brand, because it supposes that, eventually, everyone will want to more actively engage with a property. The casual viewer, consumer, user, or audience member--depending on your own favored term--is always a crucial component, even if they have less influence on others as the more active "fan" of the brand.
Instead, in work the Consortium has done, we have proposed that "lead user" model as only one of a variety of fan types, which also includes proselytizing, performing, and many other functions. In my own work, I've proposed that there are seven modes of engagement for more active audience members that we can understand fandom through: Fans as Spectators, Fans as Critics, Fans as Theorists, Fans as Community Members, Fans as Performers, Fans as Archivists, and Fans as Proselytizers. For more on earlier stages of that work, look here.
This presentation drew on a range of projects Joshua is currently working on, and we'll be sure to update you here on the blog about his continuing work on this subject. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have trouble getting the comments to work.