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Un public standard: la mesure d'audience télévisée comme norme culturelle globale – AudiTVmonde

Submission summary

This project will contribute to the development of international and comparative forms of media research. It is located at the intersection of two domains: first the history and sociology of representations of the television audience, second cultural globalization. The aim of the project is to explain the construction and the current changes of quantitative audience indices, among other forms of representations of the audience used by television organizations in four countries. It focuses on this form of representation of the audience as it seems to have become the dominant one in all broadcasting systems, private as well as public. It circulates way beyond the world of television, it is published by all other major media and it permeates the public debate. The proposed research will analyze its arrival in different national contexts, in relation with the previous forms of audience representation, but also its confrontation with the need to measure more volatile forms of media consumptions due to audience fragmentation and new technologies. To appreciate the global dimension of this phenomenon, the project will use a common theoretical background to study countries with significant differences and historical variations. It will start from Europe, in three countries: France, whose system was once dominated by a major public service organization, but which was early affected by commercial characteristics (advertising, internal competition); the UK, long the model of highly regulated (albeit competitive), quality television, where deregulation has been most gradual, Italy, to the contrary, where monopolistic RAI has been taken into the storm of competitive deregulation by the emergence of pirate stations and the building of Berlusconi's empire. It will also exploit work done in the USA, where the use of ratings has been most developed. It will also look in Latin America, where commercial television and ratings have developed early but in a very different cultural context: first at Brazil, the giant of Latin-American television, where audience measurements have developed sophisticated methods, second at Argentina, where commercial television is more fragile and its evaluation done according to Brazilian techniques. It will add more countries for shorts comparisons, starting with the recently deregulated and very Americanized (but much smaller) Israel.. An international team of researchers will conduct the project, including the fieldwork. Two senior researchers at the CSI willl coordinate the project and deal with the French case. Four research fellows in Great-Britain, Italy and Argentine, will be integrated to the team and do the fieldwork. The comparative investigation will deal with three points: 1. The emergence of quantitative, audimeters-based, audience measurement in the 1980s and the 1990s. 2. The moments of crises when the measurement system is questioned and reelaborated by the actors who initially agreed on it, professional of public and private channels, advertisers and agencies, but also by actors of the public world, political or economical and even to a wider audience. 3. The present situation when the (relatively) stable audimeters system is being questioned from the outside, because of the need to measure the consumption of new technologies and the new ways of distribution programs. The project is original in two ways. In the first place, it takes audience measurement seriously. Overall, this kind of data is neglected if not scorned by research. Some pieces of research take it for granted as scientific data, others treat it as a form of political domination of the public – in different ways, both attitudes disregard the social character of audience measurement. In the second place, the project propose a compared view of television, which makes it a part of a more general trend of globalizing if not de-westernizing media studies. However, it keeps a strong national dimension – that is, it considers globalization as a way of articulating the global and the national. From this point of view, audience measurement produces effect in the representation of each national public, homogenizing it in ways which make comparable categories of public, performances of channels and programs. It is also a symptom of a change in television, from a medium predominantly used as a tool by a State with specific public objectives, to a commercial medium dominated by commercial entrepreneurs negotiating with the State, but still operating programming within the nation considered as a Nation-Market. The project will make clear in which ways audience measurement is a truly global way of considering media audiences, in which ways it is still domesticated and adapted to national contexts. Beyond communication studies, this will be of interest to historians of culture, to political scientists, and to all disciplines who take an interest in the changing forms of representation of publics and audiences

Project coordination

Cecile MEADEL (Université)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Help of the ANR 83,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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