Active Audiences and Addiction in Television

If our perspectives upon media have been modified both by awareness of active audiences and also by an appreciation of the active management of addiction within entertainment… to what extent may we re-think our opposition to television?

Television is a media source which many of us consume on a daily basis. It informs us with news channels, entertains us with reality and quiz shows, educates us and is a method of escapism for those who have finished a long day at work or university.

The evolution of television from black and white to colour alongside the effects of HD and interactive material has made a huge impact on the active management of addiction and its mass audience. The idea of television addiction includes people watching television on a daily basis for an over adequate amount of time and occasionally dismiss other activities in order to pay attention to the material on screen.

It isn’t healthy as it can cause problems such as eye strain and a sedentary lifestyle. In Gawlinski’s analysis, there is a classification by Microsoft which interlinks with television as “Enhanced television, Internet of television, Personal television” and “Connected television” (Gawlinski, 2003:6) are all types that we consume today as an audience. We are able to access televisual material via our TV sets at home, the Internet and we watch them for our own personal needs. We see that channels have a certain link with the same genre of program.

It is worthy to mention that entertainment genre programmes tend to have more audience value than programs of a niche audience; simply because the active audience feel more involved and engaged with the particular program which raises audience expectations and ratings/viewings. Producers deliberately want their programs to appeal to a wide range of audiences hence many programs have polysemic readings from entertainment shows such as ITV’s X Factor to news programmes like BBC News.

Television exists all around the world and it is important to consider whether these audiences are majorly active or passive audiences in order to examine the extent to which we may rethink our opposition to television. When we think about an active audience, we usually associate the term with words such as, engaged, responsive and in control. Whereas, with passive audiences we often relate to the term which words such as, manipulated, controlled and dominated.

The clear difference between the two is that the audience both receive messages from the text however one manipulates us (passive) and the other does not (active). Holland supports this idea as she theorises that messages are “encoded by the producers, then decoded by the audience” which commenced the whole idea of active audiences. (Holland, 2000:14)

As an audience, we relate to the televisual texts through demographics such as ethnicity, gender, age etc. in order to be actively engaged. We use these demographics to our advantage in order to pay full attention to the televisual texts and form our opinions, otherwise to dismiss the media product and its further textual analysis. This method of decoding creates the preferred/dominant, oppositional and negotiated readings from the audience.

The Uses and Gratifications Theory demonstrates the needs that an active audience would undergo. It is understandable that factors can influence to media which we consume such as subscription services and that at times, however, we all use these media texts for our own purposes, which relate to the Hierarchy of Maslow’s Needs (Psychological, Safety, Love/belonging, Esteem and Self – Actualization).

Social media is able to reduce the attention away from the television screen, however the program is still obtaining its mass audience when they are sharing and commenting on material via Facebook, Twitter and the program’s official website which provides social interaction and increases the publicity of the program in order to gain more acknowledgement of the entertainment to new and existing audience members.

Active audiences share an ongoing engagement with television and their programs such as The X Factor as they have a familiar program and they are easy to watch. We have a program where the producers want to give ‘ordinary’ people the chance to flaunt their singing talent. The X Factor specifically aims to entertain its target audience (mainly its national demographic).

On the other hand, many are on the side of an oppositional approach, as numerous contestants always have a back story with lots on emotional content which creates a sympathy vote and for the fact that they believe the contestants do not have any singing talent whatsoever (although some find this amusing from a comedy aspect).

When this occurs, the audience can engage submissively with the television screen and turn to their mobile phones to text/call or social networking sites to post about topics unrelated to the program. In contrast, Gray and Lotz describe the consumption of television as a “transformative event”. (Gray and Lotz, 2012:64). This stands to be true as other members of the active audience will insist on continuing to view the program as they have audience expectations that the content will improve and become more entertaining. The way in which the contestants are represented programs your mind.

For example, when the show has contestants that are ex bullies, like Misha B, as a member of an active audience we are immediately in opposition to them being ‘a star’ especially when they do not portray their real selves in auditions, where we later see the true image in the media. Though, the judges, mainly their own mentor, show them a lot of affection in an attempt to make us side with them – and some of us change our opinions.

In addition to this, there are many signs of direct mode of address used so that as an active audience we can be involved. The presenter, Dermot O’Leary and contestants look directly at the camera to us when they would like us to vote for them and to maintain their fans’ popularity.

Also, Dermot provides personal identity as he plays the role of the stereotypical friend. We have a sense of belonging here as our votes and comments are taken into consideration when it comes to playing a participating role.

The X Factor app is available to those with smartphones so that they can view clips, backstage gossip (which is also available on The Xtra Factor aired on ITV2) and updated news. The option to press the ‘red button’ is a common feature from the remote control which opens a whole new world for interaction and its active audience. Consequently, the program enables the audience to feel different emotions and interactively involves them which raises its popularity.

Also, it appeals to a range of audience members as the judges age range is from Nicole Scherzinger and Tulisa to Gary Barlow and Louis Walsh, which gives both a younger and older perspective from both genders. Alongside this, The X Factor hosts numerous worldwide acts to appear on the show on a weekly basis so that all nationalities are play a part in the active audience of these high profile stars.

Programmes on television are constantly persuading us to watch them as they are generally known though their advertisement reception and other media material which increases our addiction as we follow a routine. Here, it is necessary to mention the scheduling as the program airs on a Saturday and Sunday evening at 7:30pm. Many members will have finished work or simply make time to watch the program as they follow it every week.

As the producers are aware of its range of audience members, we can question, are we considered as a loyal fan? Or just another audience member to gain popularity for the show? Some do share an oppositional reading which agrees that we are in fact just addicted to these television programs and without its interactivity elements we would not be consuming and absorbing the product so easily.

Unlike the Uses and Gratifications Theory, the Hypodermic Needle Theory suggests how an audience consumes media texts passively. BBC News is a significant example for supporting many members of a passive audience who are in opposition to television. Audience members of many news channels receive messages straight away which are influenced by the codes and conventions on screen.

BBC News shares a range of news which appeals to different cultures. The sources from BBC News including, Facebook, television and their official website is increasingly raising awareness to the public and giving them their need to be informed. Viewers have immediate access to at least one of these sources which supports the idea that the BBC are sharing reliable and the latest news.

Loyal audiences believe what they see and refer to the news in order to know what is happening locally and worldwide. BBC News is commonly known for keeping us up to date with ‘breaking news’ scheduled frequently throughout the day.

BBC1’s first airing is at 6:00am (Breakfast) followed by BBC News at OneBBC News at Six, BBC News and Regional News at 19:57pm, BBC News at Ten and Joins BBC News at 1:30am. According to Hill, “Most audiences evaluate factual programmes by using a criterion of truth. In this sense, factual content is perceived as authentic and true to life…” (Hill, 2007:3)

While not every audience member consumes the media product fully, they are still aware of the headlines which are also usually topical by social interaction where ones knowledge of a story is put together. The news is seen as a source of information that is factual and accurate therefore, many rely on it and consume a preferred reading as they trust the news presenters. Those that will hold an opposition to news such as this one depends on their cultural, ideological and political views.

Miller suggests that “economic critiques of imported texts threatening national culture, and celebrations of spectators making their own interpretations.” (Miller, 2010:23) For example, the majority of an audience are against a rise in tax or petrol costs. If a headline in one in which can affect a person in a negative way, some are unlikely to pay full attention and are more likely to.

Whereas, other will react actively and contact BBC News via Twitter or other methods of what they think of the matter, expressing their ideological and political views. Some members of a passive audience would watch the news just because their parents or friends are watching it at the same time as they are in the same room, or it is background noise to them while they occupy themselves with other activities around the house.

Also, it is necessary to mention that some members of an audience will turn to another news source such as ITV as they are only interested in the current news stories and not particularly bothered about the success of the channel. Here, the active management of television is a relationship with the new story and not the addiction of one source of news. Whereas, entertainment shows as commented on earlier with X Factor, loyal fans will watch the program on a weekly basis and favour this program to another, for example The Voice, or vice versa.

As there are a variety of news stories available to us, our addiction and activeness of being totally drawn to our television screens creates different emotions, likewise with entertainment and other programs. Sources such as BBC News use emotive language, a serious tone and middle close ups to the presenters in the studio and on location footage.

This enables us to empathise with families and friends affected by traumas (death, natural disaster etc.) or to be in shock with shocking events such as crime. When we feel such emotions, we are actively consuming the media product and engaging with not only the screen with our eyes but those involved.

Other people refer to the news as a media product which is boring; though, the majority feel that the channel concentrates the news stories so that ones with a more serious level are prioritised before the less important ones. Aside this, some will choose not to watch the news on television whatsoever and instead purchase a printed newspaper from their local newsagents or shop in the morning while they travel to work or just by their own choice on an ordinary day.

Furthermore, many members of the public enjoy to read newspapers that are free to us on public transport such as buses. So we debate whether we are in opposition to the news or the source in which we consume it. In relation to this, Fiske and Hartley theorise that “Common identity can be voiced as a sense of common interests, to be pursued in opposition to other classes in society.” (Fiske and Hartley, 1978:102).

The news is source which is available worldwide, to both genders and a range of social classes from ABC1 to C2DE and is viewed at different times during the day; hence it affects us all differently. If a program includes interests which appeal to the audience then they are perceptively more likely to consume it.

In conclusion, the way in which an audience responds to television programs has clearly been examined and their engagement is down to their ideological, political and cultural interpretations. Most are manipulated by audio/technical codes, narrative themes, scheduling and reception where their minds are programmed to give a certain response.

Television addiction creates loyal fans for programmes, especially those where we are able to participate with the interactivity elements for a sense of belonging as well as being entertained. Even though television programmes such as X Factor have a mass audience, it does not dismiss the fact that others can have an oppositional readings to the content and messaged which are constructed throughout.

It has been evident that television is just about the visuals that we see on our television screens as we have the benefit of accessing material online via the channel’s website to view episodes and see the latest news alongside, the modernity of apps where viewers are able to vote for and rate contestants on entertainment shows.

Kaplan supports the whole summary in brief with her theory that, the televisual medium, “extends human perception”, and the power which we have as an audience to view this televisual material as it creates an “all perceiving spectator” (Kaplan, 1983:24). Our television addiction leads us to predict our own ideas of what is about to occur next whether we are right or wrong.

We actively play a part of the success of a program whether we gain satisfaction from it or not – both preferred and oppositional readings are spreading social interaction amongst us, although television addiction is not healthy.

It has become clear that channels have a link with programs, as exampled by BBC News and X Factor. They have completely, different genres, yet they can affect an audience in similar ways.  An active audience is more on the side of a preferred reading than they are in opposition as they still tune into the same channels and programs to return their fandom on a daily/weekly basis – the level at which we re-think our opposition to television is far from close.


Fiske, J. and Hartley, J. (1978). Reading television. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Gawlinski, M. (2003). Interactive Television Production. 1st ed. London: Focal Press.

Gray, J. and Lotz, A. (2012). Television studies. 1st ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Hill, A. (2007). Restyling factual TV. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Holland, P. (2000). The television handbook. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Kaplan, E. (1983). Regarding televisionCritical Approaches – An Anthology. 2nd ed. [Frederick, MD.]: University Publications of America

Miller, T. (2010). Television studies. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

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