Audience whom we think as consumers are under influence of the products they see in mass media channels. As the technology change audience became more active in relation to the content in media. Although Internet plays a huge role in audiences taking an active part in communication processes, the content they view has an important influence on their “active” part.
The audience is the principal product of the mass media, produced by the means in TV series, radio channels, and any other mass media channels. Janet Wasko (2005b, 29) argues that “with the increasing spread of privatized, advertiser-supported media, the audience commodity concept has been accepted by many political economists, as well as other communication theorists.” The audience commodity is produced by “the mass media of communications” and sold to advertisers (Smythe, 1977: 3). In other words, audience commodity is audience members’ time spent for advertisers.
Smythe (1977: 22n1), declared that the purpose of the production and sale of the audience commodity and the work of audience members is “demand management”. Audiences learn by “paying attention” to advertisings or details in TV series. The commodification of audience takes place in the heads of audience members (Smythe, 2006:23). Therefore there is a key concept in Audience commodity connected to Smythe’s thoughts related the political economy. Audience labor is an important concept in Smythe’s political economy of the audience commodity. For Smythe, the activity of audience is a type of communicative labor. Because audience members’ consumption of cultural products like watching television shows or reading newspaper articles is a kind of work or labor. He referred to it as audience work or audience labor and described it as the work of ideology or consciousness production (Smythe, 1978: 121, 125).
As the new political economy of the audience commodity developed in the late 1970s and 1980s, by Dallas Smythe, Bill Livant, Sut Jhally and so on, into a theory adequate to communication and capitalism in the digital era. Smythe, Livant, and Jhally had considered audience activity as audience labor and attempted to explain the relationship between that labor and capital accumulation with the concept of the audience commodity, and the new political economy of the audience commodity considers digital communicative activities as digital labor in its attempt to explain the relationship between that labor and capital accumulation. (Nixon, 2013) “Smythe’s main point is that the audience itself is the main commodity of communications, thus the central problem for analysis in the study of communication is how this commodity is made, unmade, bought and sold” (Livant, 1979: 92) According to Smythe’s theory of audience labor audiences “learn to buy” some specific products that are advertised and the production of demand occurs. Therefore in 1982, Jhally renewed the critique of Smythe and replaced it with a theory of audience labor within production because audience labor adds value to the production of the audience commodity itself for the mass media companies.
Capitalist media are necessary means of advertising and commodification and spaces of ideology. Advertisement and cultural commodification make people an instrument for economic profit accumulation. Ideology aims at instilling the belief in the system of capital and commodities into human’s subjectivity. The goal is that human thoughts and actions do not go beyond capitalism, do not question and revolt against this system and thereby play the role of instruments for the perpetuation of capitalism. And the crucial aspect of ideology is that it encompasses strategies and attempts to make human subjects instrumental in the reproduction of domination and exploitation.
(Fuchs, 2012) Stilwell’s Political Economic Questions (2011) give us a major exploration of each issue in case of political economy by posing questions such as “what is happening?, why?, why gains; who loses?, does it matter?, If so, what can be done about it, and by whom?”. In order to analyze audience commodity issue, we need to answer these questions. The question “what is happening?” demands the detailed definition of the process of the audience commodification, also an investigation of audience labor and digital labor. The question “why?” demands the casual factors that effect the audience commodification in a good or in a bad way.
Some of them are technological changes, change of governmental and mediatique systems, and of course the everlasting rise of the capital. It is not quite easy to answer “why gains; who loses?”. Because I think it’s a win-win-win situation. The subjects in this issue are the media institutions/the government, the advertising agencies/brands and of course, the audience. Think about the relationship between three of them but in couples. Media institutions are always winning, advertising agencies are having already enough time for them, but the audiences is the one contributor that I’m not quite sure about. As some of them just consume entertainment through media, others have concerns about surveillance, the ethics, and the neutrality of media.
The “importance” of the issue is demanded in the next question. Stilwell (2011) declared that “an evaluative approach is also necessarily part of political economy, for the link between analysis of problems and consideration of policy responses is inescapably normative. Hence the question “does it matter?” unless this issue is confronted, remedial policies and strategic responses cannot be systematically developed. It requires specification of the criteria by which evaluation occurs.” Thinking about things can be done about the audience commodity issue the role of government and the laws come under investigation.
Therefore, in this case, the government has also engaged in the commodification process. As we examine the audience commodity locally, Turkey is a place where media integrity is at a high risk because of an oligopoly in the media market. The companies which control the large part of mass media via its various channels and printed press.
As Turkey has different periods in its history of media, we can also see a similar change when we investigate its bureaucratic history. The dmonopolization in media industry also the rise of capitalism leads institutions to see their media channels beyond their social and cultural value only as if they were only some “money printers”.