It is easy to understand why commercial researchers are interested in the number of people using certain types of media, as these quantitative measures open doors for new developments within the industry. As media practices are social in nature, qualitative research such as understanding when, how and why people use media is also of value.
It is important to look the act of visiting a cinema in a spacial sense, as geography can be useful to media audience research. I found it really interesting to consider cinemas as semi-public spaces, while it may be a practice undertaken for the private viewing of a film — one that can be understood to have been scaled up and monetised over the years — it is also a space where much else takes place. Charles Acland touched on this idea in ‘Screen Traffic: movies, multiplexes and global culture’ (2003) when he said that “the motion picture theater is not just a site of leisure; it is also a workplace,” adding that it is, “someone’s shop floor and, potentially, a site of public protest.”
Cinemas can be understood to be public spaces that manage multiple publics in different ways through the use of particular designs. For example, I went to the cinemas with a friend to watch a movie and within that space — inside the ticketed area but just outside the individual cinemas — there were arcade games that were available to use and candy bars that had been transformed from a mere two stands to almost a mini convenience store. This idea is echoed by Michel Foucault in “Of Other Spaces” when he talks of heterotopia, a space’s ability host multiple meanings for different users all at once.
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While cinema foyers may traditionally be considered as non-places, a concept explored by Marc Auge in ‘Non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity’, this particular theater had made an effort to create a heterotopic social space, one that added to the idea of buying into an experience.
In 1969, an urban planner by the name of Torsten Hagerstrand explored three human constraints that affected how we manage travelling to a particular places at set times. This idea can be understood as time geography and is relevant to media audience research to this day.
Logistics pay a large role is whether or not we undertake or participate in certain activities and the following three human constraints serve to illustrate that. The first constraint is capability and it refers to whether or not you can get to the location in question, the second is coupling and it questions whether an you can get there at the right time, and finally, the third constraint is authority and to looks at whether or not you are allowed to be there.
As cinema attendance is social and spatial in nature, it can be understood to be governed by each of the three constraints. When I visited the theater with a friend, we relied on social synchronisation — in reference to capability, I picked her up and drove us to the location, when considering coupling, we arranged specific times to meet and in regards to authority, we were over the age of 15 and had identification on hand in order to watch the MA 15+ film.
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