Noun. \ ˈmē-dē-əm \
:a means of effecting or conveying something.
The Media: Individuals and organizations using electronic and print platforms to convey information and messages to mass numbers of people.
The media landscape has evolved significantly in the last 25 year in particular. While once the mass media referred to television, radio, film, and print, today the scope of content and platforms is vast. The mass media today still consists of television and radio, print and movies, but now we tack on the internet and video games. Even the traditional media have new components in the 21st century.
Television is now fragmented among broadcast, cable, streaming, and physical media (i.e. DVDs, etc. And, yes. DVDs and Blu-ray discs are making a comeback. More on that later). Radio is still available on the old AM/FM dial, but now it’s on satellite and web-based delivery systems. Movies, like television, can be viewed in our homes by streaming and physical media. Of course, the movie theater experience is still a prominent form of entertainment.
Even the oldest of media has transformed. Print is now a multi-platform medium with books available on e-readers like the Kindle and as audiobooks on physical media and mobile apps. Newspapers, as a matter of survival, have largely transitioned to delivering content on websites and on mobile applications. Really, ask yourself when was the last time you picked up a physical newspaper.
Let’s take a look at this video, which defines the mass media and explains the evolution of media from print to today’s diverse landscape:
FUNCTIONS OF THE MASS MEDIA
The three primary functions of the mass media are to inform, educate, and entertain. We are informed primarily through news, though even advertising serves this purpose much of the time as it informs us about the advertiser. Education comes through news, documentaries, podcasts, websites, and educational programming like that offered on PBS.
Finally, the mass media is entertaining. Next to news, entertainment is probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think about media. From music to TV shows to movies to books, we get our entertainment fix through the mass media more that anywhere else. While some media are designed around only one of these functions, most have the ability to perform all three.
THE RESURGENCE OF PHYSICAL MEDIA
While it’s unlikely we’re going back to eight-track tapes for our music collections any time soon, serious content consumers are rethinking physical media like DVDs, Blu-ray, and even vinyl records. One of the major reasons for this return to more traditional ways of consuming content is control. Consider today’s media landscape as described above. Most of our media consumption is driven, in one way or another, by an internet connection and some platform which houses our desired entertainment. While this is an efficient and convenient way to watch our favorite movies and listen to great music, it can be problematic. The streaming model of media entertainment puts the consumer at the mercy of the streaming services. Companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify hold more power over our content consumption than we might think.
For example, as you will quickly learn in this and other classes I teach, I am a huge Star Trek fan. So, I subscribe to Paramount+ so I can have access to every episode of every Star Trek series from the 1960s to present day. It’s great! Here’s the downside: If CBS/Paramount decides one day to stop offering Star Trek: Voyager, for example, I am out of luck. They own it, so they decide how it’s available, if at all. The same is true for all our favorite movies and songs, so what many die-hard fans are doing today is purchasing their beloved TV series, films, and music on physical media so they can own a copy to view at their leisure, regardless of streaming availability.
It is unlikely that physical media will outpace streaming content consumption, especially for most mainstream programming. That said, physical media like DVDs and vinyl are going to stay around much longer than we might have anticipated when Netflix first launched its streaming service in 2007 and Blockbuster closed its last store in 2014 (Hosch, Martin).
Hosch, William L. “Netflix.” Encyclopedia Britannica. britannica.com. 4 November 2022.
Martin, Laura. “The True Story of Netflix’s Blockbuster, and the Brand’s Last Video Rental Store.” Esquire Magazine. esquire.com. 3 November 2022.