One show that I am in the audience of is ABC’s Pretty Little Liars. The show, which follows the mysterious happenings in the fictional city of Rosewood and how those mysteries affect the lives of four teenage girls, has had a large and loyal following since its premiere back in 2010. The show, while unrealistic with the way there are constant new threats, murders, and crooked police officers in this one small town, makes the viewer feel as though they are invested in what happens to the main characters and their town as a whole, and if the audience wasn’t hooked on the mystery of figuring out who is behind all of the craziness, they can definitely get hooked on the romantic storylines that the show weaves through for each of its main characters, like Haleb or Spoby.
Because TV follows a primarily broadcast model of communication, wherein there is one or few senders and many receivers getting information in a single direction (as opposed to the digital model of communication, which is more of a spider web), production companies are able to track numbers of viewers and audience members in order to get ratings, as well as to find out their primary demographics. Gitlin points out that these numbers are not necessarily accurate, since they measure the people watching at its original air time usually, which is only a sample of those who watch. Especially today, where if you miss the show during its air time you can stream it online the next day, these numbers do not provide total accuracy. Less and less people are watching television in traditional ways, and so the number of viewers watching during air time lessens and lessens. I’m sure the show has many viewers now who did not watch the show when it originally aired, but saw that the series is on Netflix in its entirety now and made the decision to “binge watch” all six of the seasons which have aired (season seven is currently on air). Since I watch the show primarily online through outlets other than ABC’s website, their audience numbers likely do not include me.
Though many might argue that the show Pretty Little Liars has run its course, and after six seasons of mystery and excitement, the seventh feels like the producers are running out of material and the show should have wrapped up already since it’s a bit of a stretch now, there is still a huge following for the show – though many may not be watching in traditional ways. Regardless of how they watch the show, though, the audience for Pretty Little Liars definitely still exists, and in large numbers. As a member of the audience who watches the show primarily online outside of its official network website, my own audience membership is measured by posting about the show online, or adding to its hashtag on social media. These are newer ways to track how many people are tuning in or excited about what is happening, since there are new ways for media to be enjoyed that many audience representational numbers don’t often take into account.
Adorno and Horkheimer’s theories tend to be fairly cynical when looking at cultural media texts, citing that all cultural media objects are, above anything, for profit and the entertainment industry exists only within a capitalist means of production. While this does seem overly critical to some, I think that there is plenty of accuracy to what they are saying. If we did not live in a capitalist society, perhaps making these claims would be unreasonable, but in our contemporary cultural moment, Adorno and Horkheimer’s theories seem appropriate. Even if you are not supporting the show by buying t-shirts or backpacks or jewelry with the characters’ names and faces on them, you support the show simply by tuning in. If you tune in during its air time on TV, you are contributing to its ratings, affecting which advertisements wish to be placed in its spots. You are paying for a television subscription of some sort. If you watch it on Netflix, you pay for that subscription. Even if you find a free streaming site online, you are still paying into your internet connection. There is no way to watch the show for free, and as such, you add to the capitalist production system of the entertainment industry just by being in the audience. I continue to be in the audience for Pretty Little Liars because I feel invested in the characters at this point, having watched them for years, and I’m curious how the show will end, despite the fact that being here I am contributing to its capitalist system of production.