1The audience gets a lot of attention and little understanding. It is the object of solicitous attention on the part of moralists and of exploitation on the part of industry. Social scientists and commentators greet it with equal parts of anxiety, derision, and theoretical reduction. Producers and performers subject it to constant interrogation. The audience is variously the result of bad manipulation, of societal forces, of an innate herd instinct, of industrial pandering, etc.

2The particular concerns and interests raised by these various parties ebb and flow with the cultural and political climate. What remains consistent throughout is the difficulty of defining audiences and their practices. Its greatest failing is that it never fully lives up to any description. As a result, we tend to find not the description but the audience itself lacking.

3Understanding the audience has grown increasingly troublesome during the past two decades. New communication technologies -- in both production and reception -- have put greater control over media experience in the hands of consumers. Narrowcasting has superseded broadcast in many contexts -- generating fragmented, disparate communities of consumers. No less significant is the increasing awareness and sophistication of audiences. Knee-deep in a media-saturated environment, consumers have become adept at locating and interpreting content.

4While critics and academics struggle to grasp audience activity, the most significant conception of the audience may be those made by individual consumers. Individual perceptions of who constitutes the audience for a given film, television programme or Website goes a long way towards determining the value and status of the content. Consumers use these perceptions to define themselves in association with, and in relation to other audiences. While such perceptions may often be wholly inaccurate, they flavour the way in which audiences interpret and relate to the text.

5Additionally, the audience for one medium usually consists of the audience -- or parts of audiences -- for other media. Media trade audiences amongst themselves and audiences trade media. The audience is therefore a set of increasingly sophisticated skills and habits.

6In this issue of M/C, we present a number of articles with different takes on the audience. Some see it as spontaneously and uncontrollably creative, some define it as stubborn and defiant, others still approach it as a problem to be solved. We offer this issue, then, as an opportunity to revisit the audience, to reconsider their formation and activities from new perspectives.

Paul Attallah
Keith Hampson
'Audience' Issue Editors