Love It or Loathe It: Content and Culture are Changing Behavior of Media Consumption

Diverse content and pluralistic culture come into being with a changeable media landscape, impacting realm of media distribution and consumption to some extent. Content and culture do matter because they can predict identities, values, and behaviors of users, directly influencing media and society. Without adaption based on culture and content, whatever media will lose their former target audience and disappear out of the market.

 The content on media affects users’ attitudes as well as behaviors, no matter through the type, the number, or the distribution way. When television was introduced, it provided a wide array of entertainment for audiences to spend leisure time, which hadn’t prevalently existed in the newspaper era or the radio era. On the contrary, the political information was comparatively less and a previous research found that political participation, such as voter turnout, sharply declined (Gentzkow, 2006). It seems that entertainment content gradually occupies attention resources and “amuses ourselves to death” by providing original pleasure. People are free to make choices upon content, which may determine some media’s fate, and pursuing joyousness is human nature.

 When television media declined in turn due to online streaming websites, the phenomenon is more obvious. Taking Netflix for instance, its binge watch brings a nationwide video-on-demand stampede (Matrix, 2014). Audience determine what kind of videos to watch basically on the content, so content is the core competence for online streaming websites. To attract more users, streaming websites produce or introduce more videos for entertainment purpose in return, leading a circle. The new generation growing up with the improvement of social networking sites is more likely to adapt.   

 As for culture, which is reflected by videos or even formed by video streaming websites also affects media consumption behavior. Sometimes, communication and culture are interconnected. People from diverse cultures and diverse backgrounds demonstrate different reaction towards same content, which can be dramatically shown in the online environment. In the political perspective, a study of political advertising in presidential campaigns on YouTube identified reciprocity between broadcast cultures and political advertising adaption. They found strong evidence that American and French political cultures would be reflected in the level of negativity observed in campaign ads online (de Boer, Sütfeld, & Groshek, 2012). Meanwhile, the emerging culture formed by the video streaming sites exert gratification, participatory and immersion. Taking Netflix for instance, the cultural unification effects bond people through shared, mass-mediated experiences (Matrix, 2014). Users influenced by sociality and connectivity culture are easily influenced by the “FOMO” (fear of missing out). The participatory culture also challenges authority, comments by other people provide a new information source.

 On-demand culture serves as an agenda setting role for users to participate in conservations by offering immediate access to videos, which usually take place in the virtual community on social media, such as Twitter. The participatory culture with little requirement increases users’ engagement, contributions and sharing behaviors, motivating the development of websites. Culture has a huge impact on media, and some media regard forming the own culture as their long-term goal. Nowadays, people watch videos not only because they want to watch, but also because they have a desire to communicate with others on social media. As a result, websites can take advantage of this kind of culture, launching a topic about its latest videos on social media as publicity among potential users.

 Moreover, rising mobile live-streaming culture demonstrated by Periscope, which was released by Twitter, influences media practice and mobile technologies (Rugg & Burroughs, 2016). Mobility holds fewer restrictions on technical as well as geographic. As a result, users are more addicted to videos by spending longer time or checking the update more frequently. Moreover, they can generate video content in an easier way with mobile devices, which in return bond a tight lie between websites and users. The UGC model appeared when online streaming websites developed to a certain stage, while the living-streaming culture yet increases professionals in the UGC model. Some people who participate in the video distribution virtually regard it as an occupation.   

 In addition, diverse cultures based on video content offer a kind of possibility for algorithms to develop the specific flow, a stream of related videos under the same culture. For instance, audiences who show interest in the Mevlevi Sema ceremony, a Turkish intangible heritage practice, can continually find similar videos in the recommendation list (Pietrobruno, 2016). Based on the flow, cultural adaptation fosters a group of users sharing the same hobby and forming same consumption model.

 Last but not least, how should we response to the effect brought by media according to the content and culture? Matthew Gentzkow asserted that television has generally been “bad” in the socio-politically perspective (2016). I agree with this argument to some degree, because media virtually has the negative influence on audience, like distracting their attention by publishing some meaningless content without supervision. However, media themselves are never simply right or wrong. The decline political participation demonstrates the political information isn’t attractive compared with entertainment and it hasn’t found an adaptive way to show on screen instead of printed in the newspaper. For instance, social media can serve as a political tool in polling.

 It is same with video streaming websites. In my opinion, online video websites are efficient media to convey information as well as exert social influence, especially facilitated by interactive social networking sites. The good, the bad, and the ugly need to be identified further by the content and culture behind, which demonstrates content and culture matter again. What we should do is to quickly adapt to different media culture, and utilize the cutting edge of all kinds of media to achieve our goals. 



By Shaobo Zhang, BU Mass Communication: Communication Studies Master’s Student,



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