Our ability to study audiences in a traditional market based ‘quantitative’ manner has become much more difficult following the advent of multiple media platforms, making it important to study audiences with a more ‘qualitative’ focus. According to researcher Sharan Merriam ‘Qualitative researchers are interested in understanding the meaning people have constructed, that is, how people make sense of their world and the experiences they have in the world’. With the rise of and the fluidity of accessing content and platforms simultaneously, audience observations are increasingly fragmented and diverse.
There is no mystique surrounding the cinema experience- sitting with strangers, crinkling packets, watching what could be a horrible movie while the teenagers behind make out. Audiences now have the opportunity to create their own media space. Sit at home, Facebook, flick channels and interact with friends all at the same time. This is quite a conundrum for those who wish to study audiences for market research. Quantitative measurements of how often, when, where and how a viewer watches a movie, for example, is so varied it makes quantitative research impractical.
This had me thinking about my relative freedom as a 21st Century movie-goer, and when reflecting on my dad’s first experiences of cinema, made me realise how different audiences have become and also question – has the availability of content on so many platforms murdered the kind of romantic ‘cinema mystique’ our parents enjoyed? In 2013, is there such things as a traditional ‘movie audience’?
Growing up in Western Sydney, my dad remembers the day he first went to the cinema. It was the early 1970’s, taken by his older sister (11 years his senior) they travelled by bus to their local Liverpool Picture Theatre and watched The Towering Inferno. Given that he can’t remember any of his 3 daughters’ birthdays, I thought that was pretty special. To be able to identify his first cinema experience over 30 years ago must have made it a unique occasion. To me this illustrates how different audiences have become. The common catch cry used to tarnish Gen Y’s reputation is that we ‘take everything for granted’, and while at risk of self-deprecating, in this context I think it is definitely true. I take my cinema experiences for granted.
At the humble age of 20 I don’t even remember the first time I went to the movies. Maybe it is because I go so often? Or that it’s such a normal social event we think nothing of it? From around the age of 12 many Friday nights were spent at the local Greater Union, not necessarily seeing movies that we wanted to see but just going with a group of friends on an outing to the cinemas. It was/is fairly normal. Our parents would drop us off, we’d be text them when we knew what time the movie finished, and they would be right there waiting to pick us up. This sense of normality also ties in with what we discussed in BCM240 last week about the ‘safety’ of cinema space. How our parents were so willing to leave us at the local movie theatre but wouldn’t be too keen to drop us off late at night in the local park I find, is quite telling.
Now, I find I will only go to the movies if it’s a movie I really want to see, purely due to the ease of being able to access it by other means on a rainy day. It’s not because I’m a cheap skate or because I don’t like the atmosphere of the movies, but the simple ease of being able to suss out whether it’s worth watching or not via friends often very insightful critiques (i.e. Magic Mike has no plot line at all but hey, Channing Tatum is so hot) on social media, and then being able to download it and watch at my convenience makes it so much more enjoyable. Gen Y take cinemas for granted, however despite that fact that it hinders all of the advertising gurus out there as they struggle to find out who’s watching what, where and when, I don’t see our blasé attitude to cinema as a bad thing. New media technologies have given us the choice to become an audience at our own discretion and the ability to consume a mass-produced Hollywood film within our own media space.
Merriam, S. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.