Audience Evolution

December 16, 2010 at 5:20 am 4 comments

| Gabriel |

I’m holed up in my undisclosed location where I’m supposed to be writing my book (and in fact am making good progress), but I spent most of Wednesday reading Phil Napoli’s new book Audience Evolution in large part because I liked his previous book so much that I was confident I’d get enough material for my own book to make it worth it. I indeed did get some good stuff and I recommend the book to people who are interested in cultural markets and/or sociology of knowledge/categories. Overall the best one-line summary of both of Napoli’s books is that they’re a lot like (and frequently cite) the Anand and Peterson 2000 Org Science article about Soundscan and how information is socially constructed and in turn structures organizational fields.

Anyway, here’s some of my marginalia:
(p 33) Other feedback mechanisms, such as audience correspondence with the content provider, have a long history
it’s funny how this has been rediscovered as buzz metrics (which he discusses later in the book). of course as he notes the main thing that makes this unrepresentative is by nature it’s biased towards audience members for whom the content is unusually salient.

(p 50) he discusses work by Ohmer on George Gallup’s Hollywood consulting and it sounds very similar to some of the techniques practiced decades later according to Gitlin’s tv book and Bielby + Bielby’s “Flukes” article

(p 121-2) Research has shown that organizations will respond to new performance metrics that present their organization in a less favorable light by engaging in activities such as emphasizing alternative performance criteria and calling into question the validity of the measurement system.
For instance, elsewhere he discusses efforts to redefine audience measurement other than sheer exposure (ie, raw number of viewers) and get at more touchy-feely issues like “engagement” and “affinity.” A lot of this has to do with folks who do poorly on straight-up exposure trying to find another metric by which they do well. Overall the development of these alternate metrics reminds me of Karabel’s The Chosen, in which ivy league admissions policy developed various fuzzy criteria of “well-roundedness” when it became clear that they were getting more Jews than they cared to have under an admissions policy based on standardized testing.

(p 124) [T]he changing role of the media audience will likely emerge as a key source of tension in the relationship between media content producers and distributors, with producers seeking to capitalize on the increasingly open distribution channels, thereby neglecting—or at least denying privileged access to—traditional distributors…
Soooooo true. You can find an example of this in any issue of Variety or Billboard picked at random. Here’s a few of my favorites:

  • Hulu blocking the Boxee user-agent string
  • Sony giving up several freight trains worth of money by holding the This Is It DVD release until the first quarter so as to avoid getting into a fight with the theaters
  • Comcast buying a movie studio to provoke a fight with the theater owners over same-day video-on-demand
  • Steve Jobs selling Pixar to Disney in part so they’d play ball on iTunes
  • Comcast buying NBC in part to stop them from playing ball on iTunes

(p 127) Another recent report has gone so far as to claim that while YouTube has a tremendous amount of content, “from the perspective of advertisers, much of it is utterly worthless” (Lyons 2009:1). Hulu, the newer video-streaming site launched by traditional media content providers such as NBC and Fox, has already emerged as a more profitable enterprise than YouTube, hinting at the entrenched preference among both advertisers and media audiences for more traditional content (Lyons 2009).
This reminds me of page 160 of Neuman’s Future of the Mass Audience where he predicts (way back in 1991) that, yeah, the internet will mean that anybody can create and distribute content but people will just ignore all that stuff and stick to the high-production-value and highly-promoted stuff put out by the big media companies.

(p 132-142) Discussion of the LPM and PPM (also see Napoli’s blog post from yesterday)
I’ve blogged about these issues before, but he does a much better job of it. Basically, improved technology would reveal that certain stakeholders weren’t as good as everybody thought and these stakeholders formed a bootlegger-baptist coalition to kill the new technology. What I hadn’t known was that Nielsen used Arbitron’s introduction of the new technology to introduce a competing product that pandered to the stakeholders biases:
(p 141-2) And the fact that a less sophisticated methodology is being employed as the mechanism for making inroads into this market is a reminder that technological developments alone do not necessarily drive this construction of the institutionalized media audience.

(p 153) [I]t is often questionable at best whether improved accuracy and reliability in audience information systems is something that is legitimately sought by the majority of stakeholders in the market.
good microcosm of the book


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  • 1. drschweitzer  |  December 16, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Get back to work, you!!!! 🙂

  • 2. Hannah  |  December 17, 2010 at 8:53 am

    what will your book be about?
    best wishes

    • 3. gabrielrossman  |  December 17, 2010 at 12:41 pm

      Substantively, pop music radio. Theoretically, diffusion of innovation. There will be chapters on external influence (payola), cohesive contagion (which i think is overrated in many contexts), and categories/genre.

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