To thine own television be true

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Last week I interviewed my grandparents about the role of television in their lives (check out my post here), as did many of my classmates. I was astonished at the extraordinary insight I received from my Grandma and Grandad; their story felt so real. However it was difficult to fathom the extreme differences between television then and now, even though the barrier separating the two is only decades old. Classmates shared similar experiences. However, when discussing these experiences in this week’s tutorial it became apparent that these insights we received may not have been as ‘legitimate’ as we thought. One girl interviewed two family members about the same experiences and even though they shared the same past, their stories conflicted. They had the same experience of television, in the same house, but disagree on what occurred. That is to say, they have different memories. She was not alone in her interviewing experience. Charlotte Allen, my tutor, suggested that people may form their own narratives about the same event. These narratives may contrast, but this doesn’t necessarily make them any less true. The William Shakespeare quote in Hamlet ‘to thine own self be true‘ came to mind whilst I was thinking about this. As long as a memory is true to the person who speaks of it, maybe it doesn’t matter if the finer details do not match up.

If each story is truth, and each story has the potential to conflict with other stories which should theoretically be the same, then audience research must be an intricate and difficult task.

“DING DING DING” – and just like that, Claire understood the message of this week’s lecture (maybe).

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It’s irony in its purest form; the very memories we receive as data for audience research may not be as iron-wrought as we desire. It’s subjective, qualitative, biased, it was years ago, surely foggy childhood memories cannot be relied on for the likes of commercial and academic research? Truth is seen by some as a collective judgement; others see it as an individualistic view of the world. Naturally seeking a ‘truth’ in ethnographic research is difficult with qualitative data.

Other methods of audience research exist, such as the use of quantitative data. This type of research is more about numbers and is generally used for commercial purposes. Nielson, for example, are a group of ‘data scientists’ who provide a comprehensive map of the times, places and mediums by which consumers view television. This kind of data is used to determine how much a television advertisement should cost. It is not entirely reliable, because important elements are overlooked (source). Additionally, relatively small samples are used, so the data collected can hardly be described as conclusive.

Do you remember the insight I was given into the past by my grandparents in last week’s post? If they had told me the exact times they watched television and the geographical location of their home or couch, I would not have been let into their world in the same way I was when they told me about their family interactions, their traditions and how television really impacted on their ways of life and thinking.

Maybe the memory research is difficult to measure accurately and not 100% reliable, but it still provides a much greater insight to the message of the medium than a bunch of statistics. This is why academics tend to prefer qualitative media audience research.

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Television is a social activity and therefore research based on ethnography and the social impacts of television is a more effective way for academics to study it. Methods include interviewing and observing.

Audience research is used for commercial purposes, academic purposes and by researchers of other areas such as sociology or ethnography (source). In general there is no perfect way to measure and report on the behaviours of media audiences. The method one would use to analyse an audience depends on the background of their research, whether it be academic, commercial or otherwise. All sorts of different truths exist, and when compiled together they can tell in depth narratives of different times.

-Claire

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