The Audience Commodity
One of the principal reasons for conceiving of the audience as a mass is to facilitate economic exchange. Since the earliest days of mass media, readers and, in their turn, listeners and viewers have been counted up and sold to advertisers-a practice that has effectively turned the audience into a commodity. Viewed in this light, media content is simply the bait that is offered to lure people into an audience. Economists and other social scientists have come to recognize that the real product of the media is the audience-a conclusion that most practitioners would find self-evident. The words of a media sales executive serve as an apt representation of this perspective:
I can't think of any other business that makes one product but sells another product. If you think about it, we make programs and put them on the air. We are not selling the programs, we are selling the people that watch the programs... so there is no direct correlation between that audience and that product that we are putting on the air. (Phalen, 1996, p. 76).