An Active or Empowered Audience is a concept that applies to an audience being in control of the media they consume. This can either be a good thing, as an audience can choose what they want and what is produced for them, or not, as they can be vulnerable as well as creating problems for media producers.
There are a number of theories which support this concept; the first being the “Two-Step-Flow”. This deals with the idea that mass media is produced and consumed by opinion leaders. They in turn encourage the spread of the media product to other users. This then becomes a chain of one opinion leader spreading out to other users who then become an opinion leader and do the same. Another theory is the Hypodermic Syringe Theory. This works around the basis that audiences are ‘injected’ with ideologies and ways of perceiving the media. An idea is metaphorically inserted into an audience who then believe in that idea. Blumer and Katz also have a theory based on empowered audiences. This is the ‘Users and Gratification Theory’. Basically, user play and active role in choosing what media they use.
Katz also worked with Larzersfield combining the Hypodermic Syringe theory and the two step flow which says that there are other layers in these theories which look at anyone influential to a user being an opinion leader. However, these can be interpersonal forms of communication.
Work of Stuart Hall takes this active audience concept further looking at social groups and their contexts. This looks at an institution encoding a text which is then decoding by an audience which may not be the same ideology. This moves on to authorship and is an example of intended meaning. Authorship posts the question ‘who owns an idea?’ a very fair point due to the fact that you may have an idea that you give to someone else, but they may in turn create their own meaning on this idea. Therefore, the idea is not one unity. On the other hand, the meaning and idea could undergo misinterpretation where one is conveyed but another is understood.
The issue of authorship is studied in ‘The Death of an Author’ by the theorist Roland Barthes. He looks at several issues which are presented with meaning and interpretation. The interpretation of signs and symbols and what they mean (semiotics) is different depending on who consumes the media they are in; this renders the notion of a single idea really existing void. Barthes also asks “how can an author have any power to oppositional readers?” He makes the point the no matter what the author intended the text to be, it does not define the meaning.