Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Post 8: Audience Fragmentation

Some scholars have argued that the Internet leads to increased fragmentation between people. In this posting, please offer some solutions about how this problem can be alleviated.

14 comments:

john thomas said...

What I have noticed most is framentation between generations. It is a digital divide that is not based on infrastructure, economics or politics, but more on a willingness or unwillingness to participate in the new communication technologies. You could almost call this a "generational digital divide."
(choice based)

It is a digital gap based on technology skills. The skills to learn how to operate a computer, cell phone, PDA, Ipod, send text messaging....or whatever other innovations come about.

My mother will never use a cell phone, computer, send or read an e-mail. She is 93, and even though she has the money and intellect, simply chooses not to buy/learn these and other technologies. My spouse will not use our computer, or our digital camera, she chooses to buy throw-a-way cameras while I shoot digital. She will read e-mails from family and friends, but will never take the time to learn how to send one or use the computer. She has made the decision that these technologies are not imporant enough to learn.

Because of decisions like these, communications become fragmented. It is impossible to communicate with someone that refuses to use your preferred basis of communication.

This choice based tehcno-generational gap, fragmentation is huge, it is primarily confined to older households, which in the U.S. are the fastest growing age segment. It is well documented that the baby boomers are now retiring from the job market, and I would predict that they will retire technologically too....Whatever they now know becomes a technology stopping point or barrier.

This generation gap had always existed, so nothing is really new, except that right now at this point in history we are going through a unprecedented communication change that is driven with technology, and a large percentage of our population is lost or not connected.

What can we do?

I really think much of our technology has come so quickly that we have not taken the time to make sure that peole have been trained to use the systems. I also feel that many of our tech devices are more difficult to learn and use than they have to be.

I also do not think that our innovators - marketers have ever targeted older populations.
I think this is a case of unfulfilled needs. An internet connected elderly person can enrich life by shopping online, geting the news, connecting to far flung friends. No one could benefit more from being web connected than someone who is disabled or housebound through frailty.

The consumer need is in place for technology to be adopted by older citizens, the barriers are training and the interface of the device. The fix is: for an entrepreneur to really understand the sales opportunity and go after it. In terms of diffusion and adoption, this gap could be defined as "adoptive neglect".

Poong Oh said...

To John Thomas

“Audience fragmentation” is a totally different concept from “digital divide.”
Digital divide is differentiation between those who use or can use digital media and those who don’t or can’t use them. However, audience fragmentation is differentiation within those who use digital media. According to J. Webster (1989), audience fragmentation is the phenomenon that individual viewers, who watched only limited numbers of channels, more actively choose channels in accordance to their own tastes or likings along with the increase of the number of channels, and therefore, audience is separated into many fractions.

Webster, J. (1989). Television Audience Behavior: Patterns of Exposure in the New Media Environment, in J. Salvaggio and J. Bryant (eds.). Media Use in the Information Age: Emerging Patterns of Adoption and Consumer Use, Lawrence Erbaum Associates Publisher. Pp. 197-216.

john thomas said...

To: poong oh

In my way of thinking, fragmentation is not a "totally" different concept than digital divide, but is a deriviative or effect of digital divide.

Audience fragmentation in your Webster quote is probably based on television fragmentation that took place during the last two decades. When we had only ABC, NBC, and CBS, advertisers were able to reach large segments of the population with a simple 30 " commercial. It was not uncommon for shows of that era to have 20+ GRP's.

When the entertainment industry turned to additional channels/cable and sydication, it became very difficult to keep "reach" (a media term) at high levels without dramatically increasing frequency and costs. This was termed audience fragmentation.

As we entered the digital era, many of us in the ad business also further defined fragmentation to mean communications competition for an audience due to other activities. For example to reach an audience today, an advertiser has to be in nearly all media. TV, radio, web, DM, billboards, and other outdoor vehicles.

Fragmentation of an audience means that you have to use multiple vehicles to deliver the same message to a population. Fragmentation between people means that you have to use multiple means of communication to reach individual people.

The point I was trying to make, was that the digital divide due to skills has created communication fragmentation among people, friends and relatives. This means that if you personally wanted to deliver a message to everyone in the class, you would have to either carefully choose a medium that reached all of us, or send that message in multiple ways.

For example: (1) I think you prefer to communicate in text messaging format.... (2) If you were trying to send a message to the entire class in text you would face fragmentation due to digital divide based on choice. (3) I, for one, would not receive a text message because I choose not to learn and participate in this technology (4) the result is, that you would have to communicate using more than one medium, thus communication between people is fragmented by digital divide.

Another example, if I had to notify my friends and family of a death, illness, or birth in the family, I could not just send e-mail - (my preferred choice). I would also have to call cell phones, land phones, and send letters through the postal system, my family and friends audience is fragmented due to a (technology)digital divide.

Helen said...

I would agree with Poong that fragmentation is about differentiation within a group, not the differences between groups -- i.e., it's exactly the opposite from saying that marketers/innovators "have to" use different vehicles to reach different groups, it's that marketers/innovators create different vehicles, thereby dividing what was a singular group into subcultures -- not necessarily just based on demographics, since as John argues, those can create almost inevitable divides -- but based on preferences, such as fascination with celebrities, enjoyment of computer games, or (more dangerously) political views. When this happens you see media outlets becoming more extreme, as they no longer have to appeal to anyone but their "base", and consumers of those outlets receive nothing but the product of an "echo chamber".

As for how to fix it...well, that's a tough one. You can't compromise on freedom of speech. From bloggers to Fox News or Air America...they all have the right to present only one view, if that's what they want to do. Some people/corporations will always have a "louder megaphone" (i.e., more money). And if we are talking about a for-profit (especially a publicly traded) corporation, their only motivation can be to make a profit, and if the money is to be made by customizing the news in narrow little bands rather than a single, broad offering, then that's what will be the loudest.

Freedom of listening is a more complex thing. Given someone who only does listen to Al Franken or Rush Limbaugh, and has no interest in doing otherwise...well, that hurts. It hurts society and it especially hurts democracy. But someone who isn't informed on issues needs to be able to identify media bias, as well as have the ability to detect B.S. when their hear it. This means not only good media education, but good science education from an early age. Critical thinking is everything and way too many Americans don't have it, and on the whole it seems to be diminishing.

They also need to realize that Britney's baby or fatal1ty's high score isn't really news. How can we make this happen? I think one way is to make it come from the grass roots. Let your friends know you're opinionated! Make them explain to you theirs! If they claim their apathetic, don't let them get away with it! And if you don't have an opinion about something, make sure you hear from all sides about it -- just don't take any B.S.

Poong Oh said...

I’m very exiting that my presentation would be a heated controversy.

To John
Although there are a lot of TV commercials, they are different from program to program. For example, TV cartoon programs targeting children have TV commercials of children’s products like toys or chewing gums; while soap operas targeting women, women’s products like clothes or cosmetics. That means the main audience of a program is specific. In other words, each program has its own audience group.

To Helen
“Freedom of listening” is very interesting term. I call that as “heardibility”: the possibility that a message can be heard to audience.

I have to do my best to prepare for Tuesday’s presentation.

karenlee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
karenlee said...

From John’s reply to Poong, I started to think about the changes in advertising environment due to audience fragmentation. Even up to ten years ago, advertising was largely limited to newspaper, magazines, television, and billboard ads. As highly specialized media channels are springing up, and more importantly, as time spent using communication technology takes up a greater bulk of consumers’ lives, people are becoming fragmented into smaller groups. A simple example would be picturing a family after dinner. Even up to ten years ago, a family would be sitting in the living room centered around the television. But today, the father may be on the Internet keeping up with the stock market while the mother is busy on the home shopping channel. The daughter is probably enjoying shopping on the Internet, and the son is busy watching MTV.

With such unprecedented behavioral patterns, I would think that the advertisers are facing a dramatic increase in market research and advertising cost to effectively target the right consumers. Surprisingly, it seems that some advertisers are resorting to the most primitive but highly effective strategy: word-of-mouth marketing. This strategy, I found, is closely related to the diffusion method we learned in class: Change agents from the marketing department chooses ordinary people who are innovators to try out the new product, and trains these people to talk to others about it. Basically, the main strategy is to “reach hundreds of thousands of people by tapping just one.” The new marketing strategy uses e-mails, community websites, and direct interpersonal communication to encourage people to talk. The word-of-mouth marketing, I believe, is one of the retrieval effects of the highly fragmented media channels. The old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing may actually be the key to permeating an intended message throughout the target homophilous group.

Reference:
Vranica, Suzanne. “Buzz Marketers Score Venture Dollars.” The Wall Street Journal, Jan 13, 2006. p. A 11

Sandy Wang said...

As Poong quoted, audience fragmentation is the phenomenon that individual viewers, who watched only limited numbers of channels, more actively choose channels in accordance to their own tastes or likings along with the increase of the number of channels, and therefore, audience is separated into many fractions.
Digital technology is creating more media choices than ever before. With the prevalence of Internet, people now have even more choices for where to get information. It’s not between decades of television channels, but between thousands of websites. Audience fragmentation has replaced mass audiences. And this, in turn, makes it possible for mediums to design their contents only according to the interests of their target group of audiences. It’s hard to say which one comes first, the diversity of people’s interests or the differentiation of mediums contents. In my opinion, this phenomenon may not be a bad one. But if it is really a problem, I think the following solution can be used to alleviate it.
If we consider audience fragmentation as a concept restricted in the group of digital media users, fragmentation may occur both between people who use internet and those who do not and between people with different internet exposure patterns.
For the first kind, traditional media should pay more attention to the topics and opinions of the new media. And Internet can give the opinion of traditional media which was considered to be more authoritative and reliable.
I don’t think there’s effective strategy to alleviate the fragmentation of Internet users. Internet is a media with much more freedom of speech or some may say with little orderliness. We can not force websites to public the same topics and we can do little to affect the using habits of Internet users. But I think we can put this topic into discussion, so more people can be aware of this problem and this may encourage them to search for information on a wider scope.

Soonok said...

I am not sure about the concept of audience fragmentation. I will assume that it is the concept based on Poong's reference rather than a digital divide.

As one of the frequent users of internet, who really visited the some website community, which reflects my tastes and likings, I think the audience fragmenation can be really far more serious than we expected. I actually don't want to search some information on the certain newspapers websites where I think the views are different from mine. Therefore, I just go to the website or community, which have similar views with mine. My opinion is really one-sided, not considering the other side of things. It is not right, I know. However, it is also hard to visit the website, which I don't like for any reasons.

The time is one reason. I have a limited time to do certain things. So, I don't try hard enough to make myself more access to any sides of information. The other factor is that I can always choose what I want. Nobody can force me to do such things.

How can we solve it? I don't know exactly how we can reduce this audience fragmenation. Since I think it is an individual's choice to search any information on his or her favorite websites or channels. However, I think the education should play important roles in this audidence fragmenation. The formal education from elementary to college education, should focuse on the general education, which enables people to have their own eyes, more reasonably with less prejudice or bias. The general education should be more stressed to train people to have the abilities to know the diversity or listen to views of others.

Avril Adrianne de Guzman said...

From a personal standpoint and as a member of the audience, I look at audience fragmentation as a boon. The media landscape can offer me so much more choices than I previously had. I am able to tailor the content that I want from the internet. I could filter out unwanted information and zero in on the ones I am interested in and the ones that are of utility to me.

However, this also means that what I see on my monitor and the content that I read become increasingly different from what my friends have. Because of the high customization we make for the information we need, the unity that media used to bring to people and communities are vanishing.

Audience fragmentation is not very prevalent in a developing society like the Philippines where access to cable TV and the Internet, also known as the 'greatest fragmenter', is not very widespread. Communities in rural areas still gather around the TV set during evenings to enjoy the spectacle of the latest conflict in their favorite soap operas. One can be on the bus and comment on a certain piece of news the night before and you'd be gratified by a reply. Community and the uniting or centripetal power of media can still be seen in these instances.

In the urban areas, however, the Internet has created a whole new niche which people explore and exploit to their liking. Thus, someone who has regular access to the internet increasingly finds himself unable to share his comments on Internet news and information with someone who uses the internet differently. He may have found phenomenal news but his neighbor had totally passed it by. Advertising aside, the Internet has both united people (faster and less expensive communication, shrinking of geographical barriers, etc) and divided them (RSS feeds, language use, access speeds required).

I believe that this fragmentation is on a downhill drive and that this is going to go on and on exacerbated by the dominant world view that 'independence' is a good thing. For a developing country however, I would encourage the use of more uniting media (radio and TV) and provide a caveat to the centrifugal effects of Internet use.

Chen, Ko-Jung said...

From my perspective to audience fragmentation and digital divide, I think each of these two concepts has different cause-and-consequence relationship. For the audience fragmentation, in order to communicate more effectively, the owners of the mass media or advertising industry fabricate different programs or shows focusing on some specific group in the society. When the mass audience saw receive these programs or shows focusing on some specific of the receivers, then the mass audience would be separated by these programs which made and based on the audience the fragmentation. In other word, the audience fragmentation causes the separation of the audience. For the digital divide, however, people of the society are divided by introducing of the new technology, which is accepted by different generation, age, gender, background, social status, and so on. That is to say, the digital divide is the consequence of the introducing of new technology, and new technology is the cause of the separation of audience.
As a generation of the mass communication, I have fully experienced the audience fragmentation when watching TV, advertisement and surfing on internet. In some particular time, the TV station will broadcast some program designed for children, teenagers, and old people and the commercial advertisements in that time correspondingly promote the product for children, teenagers, and old people. Moreover, many channels can be separated by several different types of channels which specifically broadcast science-fiction movies, talk shows, news, weather, and even TV shopping. Therefore, the commercial advertisement of these channels would focus on those who likely watch these channels.
The audience fragmentation, in my opinion, is inevitable in society, because the owner of mass communication or advertisement decide which specific information convey to specific group. We have power to choose, but the power will shrink gradually when we depend more and more on the mass media. Even this audience fragmentation would break the boundaries of nations, race, religions, and physical distance. However, this fragmentation is also vulnerable and its effect is limited in some range. Therefore, it is the best way to emphasis the general idea and concept in the education and reality life and the government should take responsibility to maintain the function and existence of public media which convey the general issues, news, topics, and attentions of the society. Further, the mass media should inform some proportion of these public ideas to reduce the audience fragmentation effect in our society.

Susana Vidrio said...

The rise of multichannel TV, broadband and personal video recorders is scattering TV audiences, making them harder to reach and eroding broadcasters' profits, according to a new report by Deloitte & Touche. The report says that instead of relying primarily on advertising, the only solution for broadcasters is to extend their business models to include new media channels and formats, offering personalised services to meet clients' specific needs and introducing DVD sales and rentals to generate more revenue."
Each individual listener, viewer, or reader is, and has always been, a unique mix of generic interests and specific interests. Although many of these individuals might share some generic interests, such as the weather, most, if not all of them, each have very different specific interests. And each individual is a truly unique mix of generic and specific interests.

Until about 30 years ago, the average American hadn’t access to any medium that could satisfy each of their specific interests. All they had was the mass medium, which could somewhat successfully satisfy many of their generic (i.e., 'mass') interests.

Then media technologies evolved in ways that started to satisfy their specific interests. During the 1970s, improvements in offset lithography led to a bloom of specialty magazines; no longer were there a dozen or two magazines on newsstands, but hundreds, most about only specific topics. Proliferations of first analog cable television systems during the 1980s, then digital ones during the late 1990s, increased the average American’s number of accessible TV stations from four to hundreds, mostly specialty channels (Home & Garden TV, the Golf Channel, the Military Channel, etc.) Then the Internet because publicly accessible during the 1990s and the average individual quickly had access to millions of websites, most of those sites about very specific topics.

The result was that more and more individuals, who had been using only (the generic) mass medium because that's all they had, have gravitated to these speciality publications, channels, or websites rather than continue to use only mass medium publications, channels, or websites. More and more use the mass medium less and less. And more and more will soon be most.

The individual's haven't changed, they've always been fragmented. What's changing is their media habits.
http://rebuildingmedia.corante.com/archives/2005/11/15/a_perspective_the_myth_of_audience_fragmentation.php

Tom said...

I absolutely agree that the internet has furthered audience fragmentation. Whereas before, even on a very expensive cable TV package, you had perhaps a few hundred channels (which was fragmentation version 1.0), the internet, by way of lowering the boundaries to publication, offers a much, much wider variety of content and sources for information, not to mention entertainment.

Even an individual's identity fragments in online media - they may have different login/handle/userids for several different services; and some people may share this information at a particular access point.

However, one of the things that I'm interested to see play out is how the interactive nature of the internet (vs uninteractive television) has the capability to deal with this fragmentation whereas television did not. There are many more options for vehicles, as john put them, in the internet to reach these fractured groups.

Susu Qin said...

Yes, I do agree the birth of the internet indeed brings in the audience fragmentation. As what John mentioned,there is a digital gap based on the technology skills. For different groups of the people, there are many factors which can be attributed to their digital gap, such as the education degree, personality, living habit and custom, ability of adopting new things, etc. Unaviodably, some people can accept the innovation more quickyly, some can not. Just as the adoptor category what we talked about in class. There should be many demographic factors needed to be take into account when we talk about this topic. Also, the attribute-complexity is needed to consider. The diffusion of internet can not occour over all the areas and all the people evenly, that could be because it is not easy for everyone to learn and operate.

As for this problem, I think what we can do is on the one hand, we need to respect the people who stick to their own living habit and personality, we do not need to push all the people to adopt the internet. Especially when we come to the interpersonal communication perspective, perhaps we do not need to spread this innovation too hurry. On the other hand, we need to consider how to seperate the audience into different groups in terms of the different situations in which they can adopt the internet. We should focus on delivering the common knowledge of internet to help them operate the computer and internet. Meanwhile we can try to simplify the complexity of accessing the internet. But another problem I do not think we can solve in a short period is how to balance the socieconomic status over different areas.