Wednesday, May 3, 2006

User-Generated Media: The Death of Audiences?

There's quite a bit of user-generated Kool-Aid being drunk by major media executives these days, as noted by's Rafat Ali in a recent post on the BBC's Director General Mark Thompson speech at the We Media conference. In a paraphrase of Mark's remarks Rafat notes "The audience phase of the media is over." I've been hearing a fair amount of this "death of the audience" riff in a number of conversations, postings and emails, and it's one of the more unfortunate side-effects of the hysteria over user-generated media. There will ALWAYS be audiences. Perhaps they will not be the mass audiences that media companies have targeted traditionally, but an audience is necessary for content to exist (see our definition on Wikipedia - fourth noun definition).

What it is different in today's publishing environment is that publishers and audiences define themselves on the fly more than ever. A page of search results is a publication tuned to the needs of an audience of one. On a social networking site people post to be read, and those readers are an audience. The job of media is to facilitate content production that's valuable in the eyes of an audience. That's been its job all along, it's just that the producers and audiences are much more granular and difficult to pre-program. So yes, we may not be the pliant mass audiences that media producers used to service, but it's still the same gig. Let's ease off the "death of audience" thing, shall we?
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