The entertainment industry is notorious for adjusting its numbers to service an often inscrutable bottom line. And all of us — including everyone who variously produces or consumes media content — have been ill-served by cookie-cutter audience segmentation techniques and panel-based research methods that cannot account for what’s happening in the “long tail” of our global cultural economy.
The insidious audience segmentation techniques that valorize age, race, gender and income over every other facet of human identity have contributed to a media system rife with stereotypes about how humans tick. The tremendous data sets emerging from social media networks offer us the opportunity to understand ourselves, and our engagement with media, in a far more nuanced way (check out my TED talk about this).
For the last two years, I have been co-principal investigator on a major new research initiative at the University of Southern California: the Media Impact Project — a global hub for the best research on measuring the impact of media. Supported by the Gates, Knight and Open Society Foundations, I’m optimistic that we can help make media more accountable to audiences and contribute to a better understanding of the role that media plays in people’s lives.
Our vision here? Ultimately, we want media makers to have the resources to make data-driven decisions. Rather than depending on their “gut” alone, we encourage them to grapple with meaningful feedback information that demonstrates how real people have engaged with their work and what effects that interaction has produced.
We also want media makers to have a far more sophisticated and detailed understanding of their audience’s needs, values and taste. For me, it’s really an issue of respect. Our media environment should be respectful and responsive to the needs of global audiences, rather than painfully engineered to fit stereotypical notions of the interests of a few prized demographic groups.