'Technology is a Glittering Lure' - Audiences in the Convergence Era

Curator's Note

As Don Draper pitches Facebook’s Timeline in this mash-up, he says that technology can enhance consumer engagement with products. It’s certainly what Facebook has promised advertisers in recent weeks. As new technologies blur the boundaries between the public and private, marketers and content providers alike use consumers’ personal information to get a leg up on the competition.

But at what point does it get to be too much? Privacy advocates are taking action against what they argue is a violation of consumer trust. And I’m sure Don Draper would not want his secret identity publicized by Timeline, just as many Facebook users will not want to be reminded of the status update that prompted an unintended fight among commenters.

The relationship between the audience and the media industry is certainly changing, but how and at what cost?

Audiences consume media in new and diverse ways, making them a more elusive and unpredictable group. Time and place shifting are commonplace. Viewers watch TV on cell phones, read magazines on iPads and share news via 140 character Tweets. New technologies bring audiences increased agency, although there are debates by media studies scholars about the degree to which that agency translates to real power.

One thing is certain – the industry is desperately trying to grab some control back. Facebook’s recent changes are but one example of a growing trend.

Media companies experiment with addressable advertising, targeting customers based upon behavioral attributes rather than the traditional Nielsen-based demographic categories. Researchers, those within the academy and within the industry, test new methods that reliably measure attitudes and activities as fast as new technologies are developed that alter the possibilities for them. Journalists’ role as gatekeepers has diminished in an information-saturated environment, which has them scrambling to deliver news as it happens without making errors that undermine credibility.

All these trends raise concerns for cultural scholars. Will the splintering of consumers into variant groups create greater divide between the citizenship? What is the social and political impact of such separation? Will addressable advertising that privileges the affluent, ignore and alienate the rest? What steps could be taken to prevent the exacerbation of social inequalities?

This week’s In Media Res curators will examine these issues, and we welcome your thoughts and feedback as well. So please join the conversation by posting your comments. We look forward to a lively discussion!

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