Factors that influence mass media exposure

One important task facing media researchers is understanding and explaining what makes people get exposed to specific media and media contents. There are diverse kinds of media available to people in modern society, leaving them with the difficult decision to decide on which one to be exposed to. A decision is eventually taken on which media to settle for and this process of settling for and consuming the contents of a particular medium is referred to as media exposure.

What is Media Exposure?

Media exposure is the process of decoding and receiving a message through a specific channel. Media refer to channels of communication while exposure consists of the process of receiving a message from a particular channel. The channel could be radio, television, newspaper, magazine, social media or other online news platforms, among others. Exposure also refers to the extent audience members encounter the contents of a particular information channel.

 

Factors that Influence Audience Exposure to the Mass Media

Certain factors are responsible for determining audience exposure to the mass media. These factors have been classified broadly into demographic and psychographic factors. While the psychographic factors are interests, nature of content and habit, the key demographic factors are education, age, income, occupation and social status. There is also a third factor called environmental factor which includes availability of the media and preferred contents, time, knowledge of usage of the medium, the viewer’s environment and scheduling pattern of some media contents and usage of other media. The basic factors that influence media exposure are as follows;

Age

There is a relationship between age and exposure. Exposure to news for example increases with age. Age explains whether individuals are interested in news, and also the kind of news they preferred. Younger people are exposed to social media more than older adults.

Young children are heavy viewers of television compared with teenagers who tend to watch less than other age groups. The reason for this is that the teenagers are active socially and preferred more opportunity to go out with peers or engage in social media use, than spend time watching television.

Gender

Media contents women prefer could be different from the one men prefer. This includes the type of medium involved. For instance, studies have shown that women generally rely on the broadcast media for news and other information during crisis, and also tend to avoid contents that explicitly capture physical violence and erotic scenes, tend to choose entertainment contents before contents such as news, and make use of social media more than men. According to her, when men and women expose themselves to the same mass medium, say newspapers, it is likely that women would choose the entertainment contents of the paper before straight news.

Occupation

A person’s job has been identified as a factor likely to influence his exposure to the mass media and content preference. A person’s job could make him to always want to read newspapers, watch television or listen to radio. In Nigeria for instance, bankers may have less time for television viewing than teachers in government schools or civil servants.

Education

A person’s level of education can influence their media exposure pattern. People, who are farther down the education attainment ladder for instance, tend to have less desire to expose themselves to news content than those with higher educational attainment. People who are highly educated tend to prefer contents which require serious intellectual participation such as could be found in programmes like editorials, news analysis/commentaries, discussion programmes, talk shows, economy etc. The less educated tend to prefer entertainment based contents where serious intellectual participation was not required.

Income

Income is a key variable which determines media exposure. Low income tends to restrict direct exposure and encourage indirect exposure. Poor people pay far less attention to the media because they lack the income to do so. This is especially if such media involves renewing cable subscription, and buying data for internet access. This is why income could be more influential in determining exposure to foreign satellite broadcast channels than local media. This is apparently because of the financial involvement in paying for monthly subscription to satellite broadcast channels. People with low income tend to listen to radio more than they read newspapers and magazines because of the relatively high accessibility to radio than the print media. This is more so in a developing nation like Nigeria which still has high level of unemployment, poverty and growing cost of media products. This has brought about an increasing number of free readers at newspaper stands and sprawling viewing centers where people go to watch satellite television channels especially European football leagues. Income has generally become a factor in determining media exposure across the globe, especially after the 2008 global economic melt-down and Covid 19 pandemic that led to lock downs, which crashed a lot of companies, cut down people’s income and lead to loss of jobs. The print media also suffered the effect of this economic backlash because printing cost and cover price of publications went up while there was dwindling number of readers some of whom resorted to online publications and web editions of the newspapers for news. More people also resort to online news platforms, leading to huge reduction of patronage of print version of newspapers.

Religion

A person’s religion could motivate exposure to media contents. Moslems or Christians for instance, could feel that certain television channels air programmes that violate religious morals or programmes capable of negatively influencing a person’s faith. This could discourage exposure to such channels. It is expected that more Christians would watch the numerous Christian channels on satellite television than Moslems, just as more Moslems would tune in to Arabic channels than Christians.

Media type

Differential exposure could be as a result of type of medium involved. There is a generally held perception that women prefer gossip and entertainment magazines to hard news magazines. More women would likely expose themselves to home movie and soap opera channels while men would prefer sports and news channels. There are studies that suggest that highly educated people tend to prefer newspapers/magazines to television. This, according to the study, was because readers absorbed more facts from newspapers than from television (due to availability of in-depth reports).  People tend to generally prefer the broadcast media because of ease of message understanding and assimilation. The print media are viewed as media that require a level of literacy to consume. Preference of print media is more among educated audience.

Time

Time plays crucial role in determining exposure to certain media contents. This is why time is an important consideration in broadcast programme scheduling. The time for scheduling programmes varies with target audience. Children’s programmes are mostly scheduled in the afternoon and evening time on week days while adults are targeted basically in the late evening hours.

Habit

This has also been identified as a factor that could influence media exposure. Some people simply prefer the broadcast media, especially television as a habit. Some have formed the habit of gluing themselves to radio sets. In Nigeria for instance, some people have formed the habit of watching satellite television channels, giving little or no time to the local media. Such people end up not knowing what happens in their immediate environment (in the city or state where they reside, or even what is happening in the country). The satellite television channels basically keep them in touch with happenings around the world, giving them “black out” on happenings in their environment.

Unavailability of regular electric power supply

This is a strange factor which is peculiar to some developing nations. Lack of regular electric power supply in Nigeria for instance, tends to influence media exposure, especially exposure to television. People rely on generators for power supply most times and this can only be afforded on a regular basis by high and some middle income earners. Most people in areas that do not have regular power supply tend to listen to the radio more than other media because they can afford batteries for the radio sets. Some audience; members listen to radio not by choice but due to lack of options. High cost of newspapers, and magazines and inability to power generators on regular basis contribute in influencing media exposure in developing nations.

Interpersonal contacts

The group a person belongs to sometimes influences the sort of medium we choose to expose ourselves and the contents. Interpersonal contacts refers to relationships with others which sometimes influence our perception, including the choice of what we read, watch or listen to in the media. This is one of the basic tenets of such theories as social categories and social relations theories which point to the link between interpersonal relations among group members or shared group norms influencing perception and attitude of members, including attitude towards media exposure and content utilization.

Quality of media and content

Quality of media content could influence how people are exposed to such contents. Creative and high-quality visual production play a role in motivating exposure to satellite television. People would prefer to read newspapers that have good production quality rather than poorly produced ones. That is why full colour digital production is the vogue in the print media industry today. Aesthetic quality is playing vital role in print media exposure today. In television viewing also, local media in some developing nations lose their audience to satellite television channels because of quality of production and programme content.

Media ownership

Ownership of the media is another factor that influences exposure especially among audience in developing nations. Government owned media organizations are mostly seen as extensions of the administration in power and as such, can hardly carry stories perceived as anti-government. This discourages exposure to such media. People rely more on privately owned media for news and other gratifications. Again, government business is often treated like nobody’s business. As a result of this, some government owned media organizations lack creativity and are devoid of interesting and exciting contents that can attract the audience.

Finally!

Media operators require an understanding of what motivates people to opt for specific media contents so as to ensure the right contents are offered. This underscores the pertinence of an insight on factors that influence media exposure as part of efforts to achieve success in the media business.

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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