Active participation is a defining feature of the modern media user, according to Norwegian digital media executives, strategists and editors. The media industries have strategic reasons for trying to attract those active users, says Professor Espen Ytreberg at the Department of Media and Communication, the University of Oslo.
“Convergent media industries’ uses of the participant” was the title of Ytreberg’s contribution to a seminar on public service broadcasting and the Internet at the University of Bergen on April 26–27, 2007.
The media decisionmakers were interviewed by Ytreberg and colleagues in 2005 for a research project focusing on how participation is “facilitated and exploited” by the media. The researchers are looking for ways the media use participation as a new source of revenue and a new means of asserting power.
Among the findings: “building loyalty” among users is the most important reason for offering interactive formats, according to the executives. Increased competition for users’ attention makes it ever more important for the media to offer interactive features that help keep the user at their site or channel, Ytreberg argued.
- Listen to the lecture:[audio:Espen_Ytreberg.mp3|autostart=no|bgcolor=#eff5f2]
Download a recording of Ytreberg’s lecture (mp3, 13,7 MB).
The Norwegian word for participation, “deltakelse”, has a somewhat different ring than the English concept, Ytreberg said. “Deltakelse”, literally “taking part”, can often cover completely unpolitical activities, such as voting in the “Pop Idol” programme. This does not mean that the democratic aspect of media participation is lost on the media decisionmakers. They list positive effects on democracy and free speech as the second most important reason for them to invest in interactive offerings, after building loyalty. Innovation is the third most important reason. Other findings:
- Participatory activity will increase, the decisionmakers strongly believe.
- There are indications that media executives do not see participation as an activity dominated by the young.
- 22 out of the 39 respondents believe users are more willing to pay to contribute their own input than to pay to receive “content” produced by the media.
- 34 out of 39 say that participation contributes to democratization and improves conditions for free speech.
- 25 out of 39 say people participate mainly to be entertained.
The digital media decisionmakers tend to see the audience as inherently active — people are not passive media consumers, they really want to participate. This understanding of the user might be influenced by the experience of the actively navigating web user, Ytreberg suggested. One respondent stated that the more community-based the material is, the stronger the response from the audience will be. Another believed that “activity is a primal thing” for the user.
Facilitating user participation is part of a strategy Ytreberg called platform saturation, where the media companies seek to distribute their offerings as widely as possible. Ytreberg saw this as a change in the media’s view of participation: previously the media wanted to encourage participation in society outside the media, such as in political parties, organisations or in civil society. Now they want to monopolize participation — to ensure it takes place inside their own medium.
- Participation and Play in Converging Media: information on the research project.