Convergence continues to exert a massive impact on Australia’s media industry. Over the past month, Fairfax announced 115 editorial redundancies (“Fairfax Media journalists strike for a week over job cuts,” 2017), and communications minister Mitch Fifield revealed his intentions to abolish the 75% reach (“which prevents TV networks from broadcasting to more than three-quarters of the population” (Carson, 2017)) and two-out-of-three rules (prohibiting “a company owning more than two of print, TV or radio in one market” (Carson, 2017)), as they “have been outdated by technology” (Carson, 2017).
Through writing this blog, I attempted to convey the multifaceted nature of convergence, and to emphasise that most of the issues surrounding the new media landscape are not “black and white” (eg. TV is dead! Nobody listens to the radio anymore!) You must question why such seemingly outrageous statements have been made; look for the statistics that support them (if any); and combine with your own anecdotal evidence to gain a true understanding of convergence.
I hope you, as a reader, enjoyed my FMCS3100 Production Project blog. In the words of Media Watch host Paul Barry: “That’s all from me; goodbye”.
In January, news articles mourned the death of FM radio in Norway. The country has been broadcasting DAB since 1995 (McLaughlin, 2017), which offers “better sound”, “is easier to tune” and is “more affordable for broadcasters” (McLaughlin, 2017). But DAB is still a broadcast technology, and commentators suggested it would soon be replaced by “internet radio and music streaming from companies such as Spotify… and Apple” (McLaughlin, 2017).
One theme pervasive throughout their articles was a focus on either technology (is the sound quality good at 128kbit/s?) or economics (how much will a new radio cost?), with little to be found on the societal and cultural implications of DAB and/or internet radio (henceforth described as “new radio formats”). I argue that, if a similar switch were to occur in Australia, the following questions would need to be raised:
Do new radio formats provide the same level of exposure for local music?
Section 5 of the Commercial Radio Code of Practice (which stipulates that, between the hours of 6am and midnight (Commercial Radio Australia, 2017, p. 19), at least 25% of music broadcast by Top 40 stations must be performed by Australians (Commercial Radio Australia, 2017, p. 8)) “does not apply to digital-only services” (Commercial Radio Australia, 2017, p. 9). This exemption has been in place since 2010 (Brandle, 2010), and may result in stations of the future “[playing] back-to-back overseas artists” (Brandle, 2010).
Of course, the 25% quota has not been exceptionally successful, even in FM commercial radio (as evidenced by music promoter Michael Chugg’s observation that “Mainstream radio will not… play Australian music until they have to. It’s awful” (Newstead, 2012), and that stations fulfil their quotas by playing “greatest hits s***” (Newstead, 2012) instead of new releases), but at least regulatory bodies are attempting to affect change. Not so with DAB.
Will new radio formats provide enough local news, especially for regional areas?
For most of its history, commercial radio has had a tenuous relationship with regional areas. At first, stations were reluctant to even enter the market, as “licensees… held the view that with a small population… regional centres were not able to support a commercial radio station” (Criticos, 2015, p. 142). Networking (eg. obtaining “programmes such as drama, sport and news” (Criticos, 2015, pp. 142-143) from national networks like Macquarie, to “[minimize] operating costs through economies of scale” (Criticos, 2015, p. 142)) soon presented itself as the perfect solution, but cast the future of local content into doubt.
I contend that, although local news content will be lacking if Australia shifts to DAB, its continued existence (albeit in a marginalised fashion) is assured by the broadcasting scarcity rationale. Often used to justify the existence of public service broadcasters (PSBs), the scarcity argument claims that a lack of spectrum space necessitates the regulated provision of public interest services (Tremblay, 2016, p. 195). Hopefully it will be applied to DAB news services in the future, even though digital broadcasting allows more channels to be squeezed into the same spectrum (McLaughlin, 2017).
Extending this argument further, it follows that, as the scarcity rationale would cease to remain relevant if the concept of broadcasting was abandoned, local news content may be nearly non-existent on Internet radio stations in the future. Perhaps the radio industry body’s laughable definition of “local content” (as “material of relevance and appeal to the local audience” (Criticos, 2015, p. 144), even when such material is not produced locally) will become the standard.
Can you think of any other societal or cultural issues that must be considered when switching from FM to DAB and/or Internet radio? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.
Criticos, H. (2015). Regulating local content on Australian radio: Can it restore local radio in an era of convergence? Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media, 13(1/2), 139-150. doi:10.1386/rjao.13.1-2.139_1
If you lived in the average neighbourhood, a quick stroll down the street would reveal countless local newspapers – squashed, moisture-damaged and in various stages of biodegradation. The newspaper industry itself has been similarly compromised, with Fairfax “cutting costs by $30 million” and making a quarter of its journalists redundant (“Fairfax Media journalists strike for a week over job cuts,” 2017). Are local newspapers an artefact of the past?
The ACMA recently published a report on local content in regional Australia, which revealed some surprising statistics. For instance, only 18% of survey participants obtained local news from social media services (SNSs), and 26% from websites (Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2017, p. 10) – compared to 90% from print newspapers and 74% from free-to-air TV (Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2017, p. 9). This massive disparity has been attributed by the ACMA (2017, p. 10) to a lack of trust (only 4%) in SNSs, which (strangely) doesn’t apply to national or international news (more than 50% of participants in a University of Canberra study used SNSs as their “most popular of news in the week prior to the survey” (Park, 2016, p. 6), with only ~35% turning to printed newspapers (Park, 2016, p. 6)).
I argue that there are two main reasons behind the continued popularity of local newspapers:
As “individuals often rely on routine and habit to determine their media use” (Tang & Lai, 2015, p. 329), the free and regular delivery of local papers acts as an incentive to read local news.
Those interested in local news are older, and thus hold greater preference for traditional media sources. The ACMA report claims that “only nine percent of regional news audiences are under 25 (five percent decline since 2003)” (Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2017, p. 12), thus adding weight to this theory.
Do you still read your local paper? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Park, S. (2016). Key Findings: Digital News Consumption in Australia. In J. Watkins (Ed.), Digital News Report: Australia 2016 (pp. 6-13): News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra. Retrieved from http://apo.org.au/system/files/64397/apo-nid64397-42436.pdf. doi:10.4225/50/5754F7090A5C5
Tang, T., & Lai, C.-H. (2015). Understanding Local News Consumption and Community Participation via the Lens of Information Repertoires and Media Multiplexity. Mass Communication and Society, 18(3), 325-349. doi:10.1080/15205436.2014.995768
When asked to conjure up a traditional perception of television viewers, one might immediately think of the “couch potato”. Wilson (2016) notes that consumers of the medium are often seen “as lounging on their couches, passively soaking up low brow, undemanding entertainment” (Wilson, 2016) – a sentiment echoed throughout the medium’s lifetime. As early as 1961, Minow claimed that “when television is bad, nothing is worse” (Minow, 1961), and that its programming was mainly a “vast wasteland” of game shows, violence and, worst of all, commercials – “many screaming, cajoling, and offending” (Minow, 1961).
In contrast, consumers of Internet-based “new media” are usually viewed as an active, engaged audience (Agirre, Arrizabalaga, & Espilla, 2016, p. 134). Their experience is “increasingly multidimensional and interactive” (Agirre et al., 2016, p. 134), and based on participation rather than consumption – as evidenced by the fact that “user”, not “viewer”, is the noun most commonly used to describe them (Agirre et al., 2016).
But do the differences between these two mediums boil down to an active / passive dichotomy? From anecdotal evidence, I have noticed that certain programs (such as documentaries) can stimulate thought-provoking discussion amongst co-located viewers; and that online areas for participatory discussion and debate (eg. forums), which often contain material of little relevance, can be read to pass the time. Bird (2011) confirms that the difference is not clear-cut – she argues that “much online activity is simply inconsequential banter” (Bird, 2011, p. 505) (often written, we may assume, by trolls who are neither active nor engaged), and that “we should not lose sight of the more mundane, internalized, even passive articulation with media” (Bird, 2011, p. 504) (as espoused by TV show fans who vehemently discuss their favourite programs, but never post, tweet or create memes about them (Bird, 2011, p. 504)).
In fact, some of the most common mechanisms for facilitating audience engagement with ‘passive’ media (be it TV, radio or print) have existed for decades. Talkback radio recently celebrated 50 years of legality in Australia (Arneil & Butler, 2017) (allowing people to talk about everything from “music” and “missiles” to “books, boots [and] Beatles” on air (Arneil & Butler, 2017)), and letters to the editor have probably existed for as long as newspapers themselves.
Uses and gratifications theory further confirms the similarities of both mediums. It splits media usage into two orientations – “instrumental” (which is a targeted and “goal-oriented” use of media to obtain information (Cooper & Tang, 2009, p. 404)) and “ritualistic” (using media to alleviate boredom (Cooper & Tang, 2009, p. 404)). It’s quite clear that television viewers may have instrumental orientations (watching the 6pm news to see the latest headlines), and that many internet users are ritualistic (spending hours aimlessly scrolling through Facebook). However, as “internet use is typically conceptualized (sic) as more goal-directed and mindful” (Cooper & Tang, 2009, p. 407), ritualistic behaviours amongst web users may be less widely acknowledged.
Is TV ‘passive’ and the internet ‘active’? The answer, as with many other aspects of digital culture, is highly subjective. I am inclined to agree with Bird (2011), who claims that we are not all produsers and that “action spurred by media takes many forms other than the creation of more media” (Bird, 2011, p. 512). “Offline mediated practices” (Bird, 2011, p. 509) will undoubtedly remain important into the future, and the venerable water cooler conversation is not dead yet.
Note: Page numbers are not cited for Wilson, as the class reading version (from UWE) appears to have a different layout to the published version (in Television & New Media), and I couldn’t find full text for the latter.
Agirre, I. A., Arrizabalaga, A. P., & Espilla, A. Z. (2016). Active audience?: interaction of young people with television and online video content. Communication & Society, 29(3), 133-147. doi:10.15581/003.29.3.133-147
Bird, S. E. (2011). Are we all produsers now? Convergence and media audience practices. Cultural Studies, 25(4-5), 502-516. doi:10.1080/09502386.2011.600532
Cooper, R., & Tang, T. (2009). Predicting Audience Exposure to Television in Today’s Media Environment: An Empirical Integration of Active-Audience and Structural Theories. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 53(3), 400-418. doi:10.1080/08838150903102204
Social networking services, or SNSs, are increasingly employed by commercial broadcasters in their fight to regain viewers (Moe, Poell, & Dijck, 2015, p. 104). By facilitating an active audience (through “audience discussion, interaction, fandom and other social activity” (Harrington, Highfield, & Bruns, 2013, p. 405)), SNSs have become excellent sources of market research data (Harrington et al., 2013, p. 406), and may even cause viewers to avoid time-shifting (when discussions occur during a program’s initial broadcast) and, therefore, have a greater level of exposure to advertisements (Harrington et al., 2013, p. 407).
For public broadcasters, however, the role of SNSs is more complex (Moe et al., 2015, p. 103). When Australia’s ABC developed a successful political panel show (Q&A) with strong social media engagement, were they simply building a “brand” that was “innovative [and] able to reach young users” (Moe et al., 2015, p. 103)? I suggest not. Instead, I argue that public broadcasters in democracies have always attempted to encourage societal participation, and that SNS integration is the next logical step.
Fuchs’ (2014) first definition of sociality emphasises that “human thought [can be] shaped by society” (Fuchs, 2014, p. 58); by observing that all media exposure involves “engagement with texts that reflect social contexts” (Fuchs, 2014, p. 58), we can conclude that mass media exert a societal influence even when the flow of information is unidirectional (eg. broadcast TV). Habermas’ “public sphere” theory (the titular concept is an arena in which members of society can freely engage in political debate (Fuchs, 2014, p. 60)) further reinforces these ideas – it considers media to be the main provider of public information, which is interpreted by social actors to “make meaning of the world” (Fuchs, 2014, p. 66). Public broadcasters have long been aware of this, with the BBC (since its official inception in 1927 (Tremblay, 2016, p. 193)) pursuing a famous Reithian objective to “inform, educate and entertain” British citizens (Tremblay, 2016, p. 194).
Now, due to SNSs, the role of public service media has moved closer to public sphere ideals. As well as carrying public information into private spaces (thus facilitating debate), media increasingly infuses private information into the public domain, and hosts debates itself (Fuchs, 2014, p. 71) – thus truly becoming “a service of the public, by the public and for the public” (Fuchs, 2014, p. 72). For example, breakfast shows “regularly ask people to provide their thoughts about daily news topics through Twitter” (Harrington et al., 2013, p. 407), and Q&A displays, on-air, the “most… incisive” tweets from its audience (Harrington et al., 2013, p. 407).
While SNSs are relatively new entrants in the media landscape, their adoption by both commercial and public broadcasters has been influenced by rather traditional motives. Viewers treated as “consumers” must be persuaded to buy the latest advertiser products, leading to a focus on audience metrics and time-shifting avoidance (Moe et al., 2015, p. 99). Alternatively, when viewers are seen as “citizens”, the media’s duty is to encourage them to “participate to a fair degree in public life” (Fuchs, 2014, p. 72), hence the use of SNSs to facilitate political debates.
Far from being derided as a mere marketing tool or novelty, SNS integration with broadcast programs should be examined in the context of the programming type to which it is applied.
Fuchs, C. (2014). Social Media and the Public Sphere. tripleC, 12(1), 57-101.
Harrington, S., Highfield, T., & Bruns, A. (2013). More than a backchannel: Twitter and television. Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 10(1), 405-409.
Moe, H., Poell, T., & Dijck, J. v. (2015). Rearticulating Audience Engagement: Social Media and Television. Television & New Media, 17(2), 99-107. doi:10.1177/1527476415616194
Tremblay, G. (2016). Public service media in the age of digital networks. Canadian Journal of Communication, 41(1), 191-206. doi:10.22230/CJC2016V41N1A3062
During the past few years, much has been written on the diminishing role of television in young people’s lives. Are the concerns of broadcasters justified?
To answer this question, we must avoid making sweeping generalisations, such as “TV viewing numbers are falling”, and question exactly what is meant by “TV” in this context. Is it an over-the-air transmission medium, the programs themselves, or the physical box that (for many decades) sat in one’s living room? Although broadcast TV viewership is in freefall, especially for under-50 demographics (25-34 year olds watched 13.4% less in Q2 2016 than in 2015, a drop of nearly 9 hours a month (Turner, 2016)), it can hardly be argued that the 30-minute or 1-hour episodic format is obsolete – indeed, only eight hours after the latest episode of Game of Thrones aired, it was downloaded over a million times via BitTorrent (“Game of Thrones’ season six finale pulls record paying viewers but piracy continues,” 2016).
TVs themselves also remain popular, with new innovations (such as 4K, OLED, HDR, quantum dot and wallpaper thickness (Dunn, 2017)) released every year – a rate of change that broadcasters are struggling to catch up with. Australia has been consistently slow to adopt new TV technologies, as evidenced by our belated switch to colour in 1975, nearly ten years after the United States (“40 years of colour TV,” 2014). At first glance, the current situation is very similar – ABC only started broadcasting in 1080p HD in 2016, several years after 4K TVs became available (Serrels, 2016). However, the key difference is that, in the 1970s, viewers were at the mercy of the free-to-air networks, and did not enjoy today’s veritable smorgasbord of online and (often) overseas content.
Between 1978 and 1980, James Lull (1980) conducted a study of 85 families (including 150 parents and nearly 180 children (Lull, 1980, p. 324)), which attempted to ask the question: how do families use television? More importantly, do their uses differ depending on parental attitudes?
Lull (1980, p. 320) argues that communication within families can be divided into two “dimensions”. The first is “socio orientation”, which emphasises amicable dispute resolution, “avoid[ing] controversy”, and the repression of strong feelings (such as anger) (Lull, 1980, p. 320). This framework ”correlates positively with all forms of parental control, verbal and restrictive punishment” (Lull, 1980, p. 321), and children raised with socio orientations are (unsurprisingly) rabid consumers of violent TV programs (Lull, 1980, p. 321). On the other hand, “concept orientation” encourages children to express their own ideas and “challenge others’ beliefs” (Lull, 1980, p. 320), which results in a preference for news programming (Lull, 1980, p. 321).
Of course, uses were found to differ considerably between the two dimensions. For concept-oriented families, using TV for social purposes (“conflict reduction”, “agenda for talk”, “companionship”) was far less common (Lull, 1980, p. 326). In fact, “concept-oriented family members were particularly strong in their personal rejection of these behaviors (sic) as a basis for family communication” (Lull, 1980, p. 331). Since concept-orientation was connected to a higher socioeconomic status (at the time of the study) (Lull, 1980, p. 321), perhaps Lull was suggesting – in a contrary manner to the oft-cited 1950s photographs of perfect nuclear families, sitting in semicircles and basking in the glow of monochrome CRTs – that families who watch together may be physically close, but mentally distant…
Lull, J. (1980). Family Communication Patterns and the Social Uses of Television. Communication Research, 7(3), 319-334.
I’ll be discussing media convergence in a series of short posts. Each post will resemble a short-form academic essay, with appropriate spelling, grammar, punctuation and APA referencing – no leetspeak here!
So, what is “media convergence”? The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) defines it as “the merging of the previously distinct services by which information is communicated – telephone, television (free-to-air and subscription), radio and newspapers – over digital platforms” (Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2016). In other words, TVs can function as computers, mobile phones as newspapers, and tablets as radios – thus creating many interesting possibilities.
The structure of my blog will be as follows. Firstly, since social media integration with television is increasingly popular (and has been covered extensively in this course), I’ll be posting a historical example of research into social television by James Lull; an evaluation of whether ‘TV’ (which, as you’ll see, is an ambiguous concept) is still relevant; and a comparison of the uses of social media by both public and commercial broadcasters. I’ll then examine the dichotomy of active vs passive audiences, and conduct further explorations into convergence as it applies to newspapers and radio.