We currently live in an era where media platforms are more abundant than before. The majority of the audience is concentrated in big media outlets, which is made possible by a rich media environment, for when fewer media options are available audience tends to be less concentrated. However, mass audiences are therefore segmented into exclusive communities of interest that never encounter different opinions and points of view due to the fragmentation of the media sphere.
This study examines this audience polarization and fragmentation between newspapers, TV and the Internet, and the cross-platform use of media. Previous research found that media forms often compete with each other while cooperating with older forms of media.
The research lasted about 9 years, from 2005 to 2015 in Southern China. It is organized around surveys using computer-assisted telephone interviews once a week or every two weeks. By the end of the survey, the results sample contained 116,140 surveys regarding the respondents’ use of newspapers, television, and the internet. Researchers were able to construct audience networks for each media type on a month by month basis and conduct a longitudinal analysis to investigate whether the audience became more fragmented, concentrated, and polarized as well as analyze the degree of overlap between the platforms.
Results show that television audiences are more evenly distributed than the two other media types. They also show that in the first half of the study the network transformed from being relatively polarized and concentrated to becoming relatively fragmented, and then by the end of the study period, it became polarized and concentrated again. This can be explained by the internet boom and website development in the years 2009-2011 in China. People were attracted to newer options available but at the same time remained loyal to legacy media.
The center of the media system shifted from television channels to websites, even though people seem to combine the two platforms and find a balance between new and old media. Overall, with the development of new technologies, different levels of audience fragmentation and duplication emerge.
Pianpian Wang and Xiaohua Wang, The Evolving Audience Network during Media Environment Transition — A Longitudinal Study of Cross-Platform Use in China, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, Vol. 64, No. 2, 193-214, DOI: 10.1080/08838151.2020.1762024