Audiences as Active Media Users

Hello and welcome back! Last time we focused on audiences and what influences audiences.  Today, we will concentrate on audiences as active users of media, with a focus on media ratings and target marketing, uses and gratifications, interpreting and decoding media texts, and reception contexts and media rituals.  In order to get a comprehensive understanding, we will analyze audiences of television shows with a special focus on televised sports and crime thriller TV series. The two are totally different and unrelated televised events attracting different types of audiences. On the one hand, televised sports attract millions of sports lovers all over the world. The world cup and the Olympic Games attract a billion people. In the United States, as people are turning away from the traditional TV, sports remain to be the only saving grace as it remains one of the leading programmes in traditional TV. Thousands of people attend live sports events, while ordinary people who cannot afford to buy the tickets and even individuals who cannot reach the sports events for one reason or another rely on television for live broadcasts. It is also important to note that, different sports events spark different levels of viewership. On the other hand, Crime Thriller television series fictionalize crimes, criminals, detectives, and motives. Majority of the crime thriller series focus on crime investigation and are surrounded by suspense and mystery, which are the key elements.

Media ratings and Target Marketing

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The concept of media ratings and target marketing considers marketing of media with the audience as a commodity. The audience, in this case, is seen as institutional constructions and the media must give the people what they want. According to Sullivan, three important demographics are considered – age, gender, and income. Applying the concept of target marketing to the production of Crime Thriller television series, a study by Brown, Lauricella, Douai, and Zaidi (2012), indicated that demographics such as age, gender, and income were not the major drivers of increased viewership on Crime Thriller movies. Instead, people watched the films to fulfill an innate need – to experience a gratifying satisfaction. With televised sports, the concept of media ratings and targeting marketing applies, especially gender marketing. Media companies are more likely to create hype around men sports events as compared to female sports. 

In fact, it is clear to see that women sports are not as popular as men sports.  For instance, after the 2012 Olympic Games, there were speculations that women sports would become more popular. Unfortunately, as the Guardian reports, there has been no increase in women’s sports coverage since 2012.

London 2012 Olympic Games

Uses and Gratifications

The concept of the active audience has changed the element of audiences as objects and masses who exist in a null state and only activated to media stimuli. The downside of these theories posits audiences as relatively powerless in front of the media content who are unable to determine their thoughts and behaviors. On the other hand, uses and gratification theory views the audience as active, selective, discriminating, and self-aware of what they want. According to Sundar and Limperos (2013), the theory posits that the psychological and social needs of an audience generate expectations from mass media, which is reflected in the different patterns of media engagement, resulting in the gratification of the audience needs. The theory assumes that people have intrinsic needs, which receive gratification by certain media sources that meet their expectations. 

Why do People Watch Sports?

Viewers of televised sports and crime thriller TV series enjoy the programs out of free will and often do so to satisfy a need. Sports viewers watch televised sports for motivation, social interaction, and information among others. When people watch sports, they usually do so in groups. The groups are sometimes overly excited and display the notion that they are having fun. Sports events are also often turned into social events. People assemble in clubs to watch football matches with their friends as they enjoy drinks and cheer on their teams. Everyone wants to feel a part of the team and watching soccer feels more like playing. As Muska (2017) notes, fans watching football can relate with the team and evoke a feeling of being a part of the team. In particular, when a team is playing well, the brain releases dopamine, which regulates the pleasure center of the brain to give a gratifying satisfaction.

New York Football fans watching the Giants against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Photo credits:

Why do People Watch Crime Thriller Television Series?

Crime Thriller television series viewers watch to satisfy their curiosity and to bask in the suspense and mystery that comes with crime series. Both audiences are usually on a quest to satisfy a need. According to research, crime dramas and crime reality shows have experienced a steady growth over the years. A study by Brown et al. (2012) sought to study the viewership of crime drama by taking a unique approach of uses and gratification. The audience analysis tested three independent variables against four dependent variables. The independent variables consisted of age, sex, and viewing frequency, while the dependent variables consisted of curiosity, identification, social interaction, and entertainment. The results indicated that curiosity and gratification were the most influential aspects of the users. The results suggested that viewers have different reasons for viewing Crime Thriller television films. More specifically, if the result was not gratifying to their needs then they would definitely give the film a low rating and even cause it to be canceled

Interpreting and decoding media texts

Different audiences interpret and decode media texts differently. For instance, Sullivan outlined three positions that audiences can adopt regarding a message – these include dominant-hegemonic, oppositional, and negotiated. In the dominant-hegemonic position, audiences take the message as the sender communicated and accept the intended meaning because both the sender and the receiver share an ideological background. In a negotiated position, audiences understand the message, but they do not accept it completely. Instead, they modify the message to reflect their own beliefs and interests. In oppositional position, the audience understands the message but it decodes it in contrast to what the sender intended and end up rejecting the message. Unfortunately, the opposition position is hard to pin down on television shows. Focusing on crime thriller series and analyze how different audiences are likely to receive, interpret, and decode media texts. On the surface, Crime Thriller television series depicts the criminal underworld, where detectives and criminals are always working to outsmart each other. Additionally, the current advancement in technology has improved the legitimacy of television production with incoming talent and finances allowing for attention to detail, which was not there in previous years. From a dominant-hegemonic position, it is possible for audiences to watch their favorite Crime Thriller television series passively. The audience accepts the narrative structure and leaves no room for imagination or thoughts to question the original intended message. In order to have a comprehensive understanding, consider the Blacklist featuring James Spader and Megan Boone. When he first arrives at the FBI black site, Raymond Reddington claims that his list contains not the ordinary criminals, but dangerous and high profile criminals who the FBI will never catch without the assistance of a criminal like him. On the surface, this premise appears untrue even to the FBI assistant director Harold Cooper who remains unconvinced. However, as Reddington starts revealing the names on his list the audience watch the show in a passive mode relishing in Red’s words.

From a negotiated position, earlier in the Blacklist, no one understands the reason for Raymond Reddington’s resolve to work with only Elizabeth Keen who was considered a rookie FBI profiler. As the series progressed, the audience could not understand the reasons for Raymond’s persistence on working with Elizabeth Keen. 

As Raymond revealed the mask behind Tom Keen, a majority were convinced that Raymond was just a well-wisher who wanted to nurture Elizabeth’s career because he had ties with her father. However, gradually, the audience starts to develop their own beliefs that there is more than Raymond’s obsession with Liz Keen, which is eventually revealed by the DNA testing identifying Raymond as Elizabeth’s father.

Elizabeth meets Reddington

On the other hand, applying the three positions to televised sports, considering the dominant-hegemonic position, this is demonstrated in the way media channels chose to televise male sports events, but overlook female sports events. The inference we make from this biased broadcast is that the media assumes that the audience is passive and will not question the televised sports event. In a negotiated position, assuming there two soccer games going taking place at the same time, the media will choose to broadcast one and overlook the other, which may trigger different opinions from the audience.  

Televised sports events attract millions of viewers who watch the broadcasts from their homes, at social gatherings, or in restaurants. The audiences are active users intrigued by the need to receive an innate gratification. The same applies to Crime Thriller television shows’ audience who watch the series to satisfy their curiosity and suspense. Both television shows depict two different types of audiences who are active users of media. Apart from uses and gratifications, we also explored other elements that may influence audiences as active users of media. The concept of media ratings and target marketing views the audience as an institutional construction of the media, who must be given what they want to satisfy their needs. The marketization of media must customize the content to fit the target market and to satisfy the needs of the audience. Additionally, considering the three positions elaborated by Sullivan, it is evident that the audience can be passive and completely accept the message as the sender intended. On the other hand, the audience can oppose the message of the sender, while agreeing with or be completely opposed to the message. Until next time, I am sure you probably have a lot of looking up to do starting with female sports events and the thrilling Blacklist series. Thank you for reading and look out for the next issues. 


Brown, D., Lauricella, S., Douai, A., & Zaidi, A. (2012). Consuming television crime drama: a uses and gratifications approach. American Communication Journal, 14(1), 47-60.

Brown, S. (2012). London 2012: the women’s Olympics? CNN. Retrieved from

Goldberg, L., & O’Connel, M. (2017). ‘Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders’ Canceled at CBS. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from

Martinson, J. (2014). No increase in women’s sports coverage since the 2012 Olympics. The Guardian.  Retrieved from

Muska, S. (2017). What happens to your body and brain when you watch football? NBC News. Retrieved from

Statista. (n.d). Sports on U.S. TV – Statistics & Facts. Retrieved from

Sullivan, J. L. (2013). Media Audiences: Effects, users, institutions, and power. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications.Sundar, S., & Limperos, A. (2013). Uses and grats 2.0: New gratifications for new media. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 57(4), 504-525

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