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The real data from audience ratings comes from the "people meters" that record what the target sample watches, how long the shows are watched, and what is fast-forwarded. In the case of the Nielsen ratings data is sent daily (both live and DVR data) and even which family members are watching it. Data is broken down in the demographic age groups and ratings represent what percentage of the nearly 116,000,000 viewers are watching a particular program (a 1.0 rating would mean that one percent or about 1,600,000 viewers were watching a program; Lotz 2007). This is a disadvantage in that samples like this are extremely difficult to make representative of larger target populations.
The reasoning behind audience ratings is that audience ratings are the most obvious indicator of the program's success. However, the actual numbers that networks use to decide if a particular program is a success are not the audience ratings but the commercial ratings. The advertisers, who pay for the programming, do not care if a person watches a particular show all they care about is how many people watch their commercials. A highly -- watched program where all of the viewers fast forwarded through the commercials would not in all probability last very long. This is a major flaw in audience -- based ratings. This is one reason why sporting events, which people typically do not record, are very popular with advertisers and despite the ratings of many particular types of sports remain viable and attractive to advertisers. On the plus side, a great deal of television viewing still takes place live where skipping the commercials is not possible (although channel flipping during racial breaks will have an effect on ratings).
Another major complaint with audience ratings is that the use of services such as Hulu, Netflix, and on-demand cable watching do not count in the overall totals of the ratings because either there are no ads shown or because the ads that are shown often differ from the ads that were played during the original broadcasts (Lotz 2007). Thus, a weekly show viewed by 10 million viewers on Hulu but only one million live viewers is not accurately portrayed in terms of its popularity. As television viewing habits become more fractured due to the schedules of people who use certain programs and the ease with which they can record it or watch it at a different time than its original broadcast the viewers are less held to traditional television viewing schedules. This is reflected in the decreasing accuracy of audience ratings and the current method used to tabulate the popularity of a particular program. A number of competing companies have emerged and are selling some supplementary data to networks but these companies are not yet competitive with the well accepted Nielsen core -- television rating system.
' As a result of the traditional way that television ratings have been compiled and used another complaint is that innovative programming and certain types of intellectual programs suffer in the ratings because of lower viewing numbers. Exposure is the only data recorded for ratings and the numbers for who has tuned into the program, who stays tuned into the program, and who changes the channel is the only relevant behavior compiled by audience ratings. Audience ratings do not measure whether a particular program is interesting or beneficial to the audience that views it (Barry 2008). No other audience behavior than viewing is relevant. What this means in effect is that the ratings really only reflect the advantages of the broadcasters and not the advantages that the program has for the audiences. There are two ways to look at this: first, broadcast television is a business and ratings reflect the solvency of the potential investment by advertisers. Thus, broadcasters can track the types of programs that bring in revenue. In addition, the ratings indicate that audiences are tuning in and therefore are satisfied. On the other hand, audience ratings do not measure the utility or satisfaction that the program brings to the viewers. The only thing that is measured is how many people are watching (particularly how many people are watching the advertisements). In this light, audience ratings are beneficial for the business of television broadcasting, but offer limited utility concerning determining the benefits and the satisfaction of the audience that views the program (Kaul, and Wittink 1995).
Finally, as happened in the early 2000's, it has been determined that depending on how the data is sampled different methods can produce different estimates. These differences have been blamed on "sampling error" and other statistical procedures, but such errors do not offer the television industry much satisfaction concerning the accuracy of ratings. The issue at heart is the lack of a standardized method for determining audience ratings, what should actually be measured -- advertisement viewing or program viewing? Depending on which audience is being measured the ratings can fluctuate (Barry 2008).
2. Media research that took place in the early part of the 20th century (in the 1920s) reflected much of the insecurities of that particular time period. Early researchers believe that communications function by actually injecting powerful message content into the minds of audiences that were basically passive. This notion was developed in response to the effect of propaganda on both sides of the conflict in the Great War or World War I (Baran and Davis 2000). Propaganda that had been used by either side was observed to be very effective as if it were omnipotent. The media was believed to have a powerful influence on public opinion and the notion that the media actually fired "magic bullets" which only had to reach or "hit" the particular target audience in order to have the desired effect. This theory was called the "magic bullet" or "hypodermic model" which proposed that the media functions as a sort of syringe that is able to thoroughly inject a message or a narcotic type of propaganda directly into its audience. Thus, the mass media could directly influence and control its audience (Baran and Davis 2000). According to this notion the media was awful responsible for "injecting" negative messages or influences on a very passive audience that was affected by the message without much resistance (Baran and Davis 2000).
By the middle part of the 20th century the notion that the media could directly influence a passive audience had started to lose favor and alternative ideas were taking shape which placed areas of communication in a much wider social context. Hall's encoding/decoding model came out of a British philosophical approach to understanding culture (Hall 1980). Hall's model is a semiotic model meaning that it is an analysis of how meeting is created and transmitted in language, nonverbal signs and codes, and cultural sites. According to Hall's model the audiences not an empty vessel in which one fills with a message, but instead audiences are culturally formed and culturally aware. The moments of the model or phases are defined in Marxist terminology as the production, circulation, distribution or consumption, and reproduction of a message. Each of these moments plays an important function in the manufacture of the meaning of the messages. An audience can negotiate, reject or accept the messages that they were exposed to by the media. Hall's model reverses the processes of the hypodermic model; and Hall's model the concern is what the audience does with the messages they receive from the media, whereas in the hypodermic model the concern is what the media message does to the audience. This reversal highlights a key difference between the hypodermic model and the encoding/decoding model. One of the key differences is how the audience's view. Hypodermic theorists view the audience is passive and culture could be imposed on them from above by an influential…[continue]
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