Audience research

What is Audience research?

Audience research is crucial in creating a successful piece of media as without knowing who the audience is you would not know in what format to market your product. The definition of  audience research is the research of a specific audience to gather information on their age, gender and ethnicity etc. Audience research is key to the success of any movie as the film has to appeal to its target audience. Audience research is usually conducted by a group of people that will be specialised in conducting audience research. They would hopefully know and understand the wide variety of demographics and what kind of product each demographic wants, as well as what gap in the market they could exploit. Disney is probably the best example of this as they regularly make films that are a huge success and often break records. This shows how important audience research is and how it can make or break a film.

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Why is Audience research important?

Audience research is important because if you make a film that doesn’t appeal to its target audience the film wont make money and is therefore unsuccessful. Thats why knowing the people you want to target is key so you can create a variety of products and advertisements that appeal to the target audience you are trying to attract. This can be seen the the 2013 Disney film Frozen(Chris Buck), the films target audience is young girls. This can be seen in the variety of merchandise that is available. The film has made just under $1.3 Billion from the box office alone, with another $360 million in video sales  just in the US. In merchandise frozen toys, games, shirts and more are set to hit $1 billion. All of the revenue from this phenomenon caused a 19% increase in profits for the Disney company.

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To create a successful movie franchise like Frozen the director first of all needs to know the target audience and a deep understanding of the various demographics. In the case of frozen this would be to look at the demographic of young children, mainly girls, and see what they want/need, as well as their interests. From this base the director can build an idea of what sort of film would take the interest of the majority of the desired demographic. The film would probably include a few of the key aspects that the target audience wanted, making the film appeal to an increasing number of people.


Audience demographics:

Audiences are categorised according to various things including their gender, age, ethnicity, religion, social class and sexual orientation. The reason for this categorisation is that people of these different demographics are interested in completely different things. For example a teenage boy will be more likely to watch Fast and Furious 7(James Wan) whereas a young boy will be more interested in Jurassic World(Colin Trevorrow). Furthermore these demographics are used so a director can target a specific demographic instead of the entire population, for a horror film for example. For example the older people among us would probably not be interested in watching a horror film. Therefore the director can target other ages of people such as a younger, possibly teenage audience that are still in education.

These demographics help a director/producer create a movie that appeals to a particular category of audience so the film will be more successful. Disney are particularly good at creating films that appeal to children such as the recent Frozen as well as other films such as Lion King( Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff) and 101 Dalmatians(Stephen Herek). Lion King was a huge success that made $422 million off a production budget of only $45 million. The film has great reviews and is still watched and adored my many.

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Audience theories:

Hypodermic needle effect


This theory is based on the idea that the media is capable of mass manipulation, meaning the media can manipulate what the audience thinks. This is therefore based on the idea that the audience is gullible as well as the assumption that audiences will believe everything that they are told. The theory was developed in the 1920’s and it can be seen in the 1938 radio broadcast War Of The Worlds where people who tuned into the broadcast after the warning thought the broadcast was real and ran out of their houses screaming. This happened again in 1957 when the BBC broadcast a panorama report on a Spaghetti tree being grown in southern Switzerland. After the report many people contacted the BBC to get advice on how to grow their own.

I think that this theory is partially correct to an extent, but this is because apart from listening to the media we have hardly any other way of confirming what the media is saying unless we are there ourselves. On the other hand if it were completely true them people would be rioting, protesting and striking more than they do now. Furthermore there would be more tension on the international scale, for example the North Korean (state controlled) media have recently announced that they have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, with the hydrogen bomb being around 1000x more powerful than conventional nuclear bombs. If everyone in the world was to believe what North Korean state media has said, the country would have the entire world watching, being scared of them. However it seems that the exact opposite has, and is happening.

Two Step Flow Model


This model is based on the idea that a more literate ‘opinion leader’ who has a better understanding of the media will take in and then proceed to spread the news stories in a simpler way to other individuals. This seems more realistic as you are more likely to believe something that someone that you trust has said, compared to a news agency that you know nothing about. Furthermore the two step flow model shows the differences between the passive and active viewers as well as showing that news is spread from person to person, not purely from the media. Questioning someone you trust about something about something you may no nothing about is near impossible, as you obviously can’t correct them, would make you a passive viewer. I think this is well represented in this particular model.

This model only works if the ‘individuals’ are passive viewers, these are people that believe everything that they are told, and take everything as fact without confirming via another source. On the other hand there are Active viewers, these are people that question what the mass media tells them, often by researching with other respectable sources before they believe a piece of information.


Uses and Gratification

This is the theory that deals with the effect people have on the media as well as why people choose specific media forms. The Uses and Gratification theory also emphasises how much of a limited effect the media has over its audience. This theory first came about in the 1940’s. For example the same film or TV show will satisfy different needs for different people. This theory has four different categories;

  • Diversion- to divert oneself from the normality of everyday life
  • Surveillance- provides information about the world
  • Person Identity- to compare oneself to people in the news
  • Personal relationship- an opportunity for social interaction
  • Reception Analysis- This theory focuses on how the audience come to an understanding of a media text.

Effects debate

This theory suggests that the media has the potential to influence the audience in a negative way by creating panic through a threat such as a shooting, bombing etc. Also it is suggested that films, music and video games can influence people into becoming more violent, apparently causing them to commit horrendous crimes parallel to those portrayed in the media.

An example of this is the 1997 Paducah shooting. In this a freshman opened fire on a prayer group, killing three and injuring 5 more. In the media outburst that followed, the 1995 film The Basketball Diaries(Scott Kalvert) starring Leonardo DiCaprio was blamed repeatedly for influencing the 14 year old in his actions. The film contained a scene in which on of the characters daydreams about bursting through the class door and shooting everyone with a shotgun, similar to the style of The Terminator. Apparently the teen, called Michael Carneal, mentioned the film to the police although the few friends he had said that he had never actually seen the film as ‘he hated DiCaprio’.


This is a great example of the media, as well as the parents and police using media as a scapegoat to cause moral panic. The, forged, link between the film and the shooting consequently resulted in the films production company, Warner bros, offering full refunds to video stores that wanted to take the film off of their shelves. The families of the deceased also attempted to take legal action against Warner Bros, although this was later dismissed in court. It was later determined in prison, where he still resides, that he was suffering from severe mental health issues.



2013-Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee)

2015-Fast and Furious 7 (James Wan)

2015-Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow)

1994-Lion King ( Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff)

1996-101 Dalmatians (Stephen Herek)

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