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The new television must listen to its audience

The sociologist Lázaro Echegaray maintains there is a need to interpret the share beyond the figure, which TDT is able to provide

“A new television broadcasting system requires a fresh formula to research its audience," asserts Lázaro Echegaray, who has produced his thesis right in the midst of the analogue switch-off. This researcher understands that the introduction of TDT and the new ways of consuming audiovisual products (Internet, tablets, etc.) render the use of audience measuring devices —being the only research tool— meaningless. He is calling for a qualitative audience study that goes beyond the share; to interpret what viewers want instead of quantifying them. However, he points out that this is something that goes against the grain of the Spanish media industry, which is keen to “perpetuate the system”. His thesis, defended at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), is entitled: (Analysis of the influence of the introduction of the digital audiovisual model in the marketing study of audiences: methodological trends and views of the audiovisual business sector). Digital television entails many changes when it comes to studying its audience. On a technical level, the audience measuring devices have had to be adapted, because the way of detecting channel changes on TDT is different from that of the analogue system. Socially, the fragmentation of the audience is clear; not only because of the increase in the offer of channels, but also in the availability of the mediums. “In the past, the programme total covered 100% of the audience, but all of a sudden there are spectators not accounted for, and there's no way of knowing where they are. One can assume they are on the Internet, but there's no way of knowing this," says Echegaray. So media people are demanding new ways of measuring audiences. In any case, this research does not focus on changes of this type, which in the end are unavoidable. It maintains that it is necessary to take advantage of the situation to do things differently: “It not only seeks to analyse the problems that used to arise when measuring audiences and how they could be solved, but even to test other formulas that could have a place in the world of TDT in the future. Formulas that complement quantitative data with qualitative one. “In qualitative research you can chat to people and see what they think, and interpret it. The results you get are not data but concepts." But, as Echegaray explains, quantitative research that governs today’s TV leads us to a system of majorities, the so-called "audience dictatorship". For example, it does not clarify whether a gossip programme has an audience of 40% because people really like it or because there is nothing else available. The characteristics of TDT could enable interactivity to take place. “The idea was that if interactivity existed, there was a medium so that there could be two-way information. And having a medium whereby that feedback existed, the study could be interpretative,” says Echegaray. However, interactivity does not yet have a place in the new TV system, because other matters have been prioritised in the introduction of TDT, but it is something that is taking place already over the social networking sites, and which the Spanish audiovisual industry has yet to size up. As an example of this, the researcher mentions a controversy that spread over the Internet as a result of a Spanish programme showing an interview given by the mother of a boy who had been convicted of concealing a murder; and the mother had been paid for giving the interview: “Somebody started to say: ‘But what are they up to showing this lady on TV and paying her money?’ And all of a sudden the programme lost its advertising. If they had read the discourse on the social networking sites in advance, they would have found out that the audience does not agree with such things, and could have sorted out the problem earlier." Part of the research consisted of interviewing representatives of sectors and organisations related in one way or another to television. Most appear to concur with the view defended in the thesis, but contradictions emerge: “They all believe that qualitative research is very important and that it is necessary to structure two-way channels of information to produce qualitative discourses, but... they also believe that qualitative discourses need to be quantified. They don’t want to end up with the idea, but with the number.” But the fact is, moreover, he perceives that it is the audiovisual industry itself that sets out to prevent there being changes in the way of watching television and measuring audiences. Among other things because it would also force it to change the way it makes money from advertising. “When you sit down in a sitting room, you start to zap. You are someone who is unconsciously all the publicity they are going to force down your throat. It’s the seedbed for television, and the industry wants to defend it tooth and nail, because it is its . They are out to perpetuate the system,” he concludes. Lázaro Echegaray-Eizaguirre (Madrid, 1971) received a degree in Political Sciences and Sociology from the University of Granada (Spain). He wrote up his thesis under the supervision of the PhD holders Carmen Peñafiel-Saiz and Amparo Huertas-Bailén; Peñafiel is a tenured lecturer in the Department of Journalism of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Communication of the UPV/EHU and a member of the governing board of the Spanish Association of Research into Communication, and Huertas is a tenured lecturer in the Department of Audiovisual Communication and Publicity of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Today, Echegaray teaches Sociology and Market Research on the Management and Business Marketing Degree Course of the University School of the Chamber of Commerce in Bilbao (UPV/EHU).