Types of Media Exposure

In today’s society every individual is overwhelmed by different types of media. From the print to the electronic media, from mobile handsets and smart phones to the numerous video-on-demand platforms available, the audience members have a vast range of channels to satisfy their information needs. This leads to the difficult decision on which media to be exposed to and which media content to select from the array of interesting contents available. 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.

Types of Media Exposure

Exposure takes place in two basic forms – direct and indirect exposure. This has to do with the nature of contact between the receiver and a message. Audience members encounter a message in certain basic ways.

Direct Exposure

An individual could be engaged in direct or primary exposure when they receive the message first hand. Direct exposure takes place when the audience accesses the channel of communication (mass medium) and selects specific contents to read, watch or listen to. Here the activity is mostly deliberate, selective and involves a one-step information flow and assimilation process from the medium to audience. Examples of direct exposure activities include watching television, listening to radio and reading books or newspapers.

Indirect Exposure

Also referred to as secondary exposure, indirect exposure takes place when the audience receives the message from someone who had watched, read, or listened to a mass medium.  Here the message is received from what could be described as a secondary medium – someone who got the information first hand. Another way to describe the two-step communication flow involved in the indirect exposure process is opinion leadership. This is because the message gets to the receiver through a person called opinion leader who plays a gate-keeping role in the communication process. Most often, the message loses its original form as the secondary medium (opinion leader) adds their own views, perceptions and interpretations to the message. A great deal of information gets to rural, illiterate or semi literature audience in developing nations through indirect exposure.

In Nigeria for instance, the infamous comment on Prophet Mohammed cartoon in an article written by a reporter with This Day newspapers in 2003 which led to what became known as the Miss World Riots that year, was largely a result of indirect exposure to the mass medium (in this case This Day). The bulk of the people who executed the riots across cities in Northern Nigeria did not read the article in This Day. Opinion leaders did the interpretation or misinterpretation, as the case may be, which ignited the riots. In certain instances, indirect exposure is as powerful, if not more powerful, than direct exposure to the mass media.

Voluntary Exposure

Exposure could also be voluntary or involuntary. In voluntary exposure, the act is deliberate and selective. There is likelihood of content utilization because the audiences decided to, for instance, choose Vanguard instead of Daily Sun or tune in to CNN instead of Al Jazeera television channel.

Involuntary Exposure

In involuntary exposure, the audience is captive.  The audience cannot control or determine choice of channel, programme or content to be exposed to. For instance, in this era of cable/satellite television broadcasting, some households that subscribe to these television channels may have only one decoder, most times controlled by the parents in their room. The children may want to watch Cartoon Network or any sports channel using the television in the living room while their parents selected CNN in the room. The children in the living room are either forced to watch CNN or leave the house. Involuntary exposure is simply captive exposure to content.  Often times, it may not result to content utilization.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

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

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