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Judging from the type of technology that was available in the 1960s, one can assume that there existed a great divide between the old and new ways of consuming media content. However, interviewing someone who experienced a radically different mode of media consumption, it was revealed that there were significant similarities as well. The results were surprising and enlightening at the same time. In both old and new ways of consuming media content, the process is both technology-driven and consumer-driven, while the differences are found in the technology that altered the speed of accessing information and the ability of the consumer to interact with or modify the media that they consumed.
The Old Way of Consumig nMedia
Interviews were conducted in order to have a grasp of how the older generation consumed media. The answers from the interviews provided a basis for the discussion on the old way of consuming media versus the present-day consumption of media. The participants or the interviewees were asked to recall their personal experiences with mass media outlets by recounting the times when they were made available in the UAE or Dubai area.
The interviewees were able to recount their experiences especially with regards to the emergence of broadcasting outlets or newspaper companies. It was surprising to find out that there was no TV station in the United Arab Emirates before the 1960s. In fact, there was also no publisher producing daily newspapers even in the latter part of the 1960s. In fact, the earliest mass media outlet was a radio station that was established in the mid-1960s. The daily newspaper outlets and the first UAE TV station did not come along until the 1970s.
Based on the growth of the media outlets and the type of availability of the media content, one can argue that technology played a significant part in its development. One can also say that it would require less complicated technology to set-up a radio broadcasting system compared to a newspaper publication business or publication agency.
On the other hand, the relative difficulty of establishing a radio station and a printing press can make one realize that aside from technology there is another factor that shaped the way people consumed media. It is a phenomenon that one can describe as “consumer-driven,” or the kind of media content that producers or content makers make available to the public, those that are in-demand, and not merely dictated by the kind of technology that is available in a certain period in time. In order to get a better grasp of these ideas, it is best to consider the results of the interviews. Consider the excerpts from the interview:
Interviewer: What type of media content was available in the 1960s and 1970s?
Interviewee: We did not have television or newspaper probably until the 1970s.
Interviewer: How did you receive the news if there was no TV or newspaper?
Interviewee: Newspapers came from Beirut. These were printed a week before.
According to the interviewees, although there was no radio station in the UAE before the middle of the 1960s, the city was not deprived of media content, because a Royal Air Force base nearby was pounding the airwaves with American and British music. It is safe to assume that record companies were aware that such a facility existed. Therefore, they probably shipped musical records to the said radio station in order to play songs primary for the purpose of entertaining the soldiers stationed in the base and the expatriates working within and around Dubai at that time. A secondary set of interview excerpts provided an idea of how media content was consumed.
Interviewer: Can you tell me more about the radio station?
Interviewee: They played a lot of American and British music.
Interviewer: How frequently did you hear these songs playing?
Interviewee: I remember that there was a limited window of opportunity to listen to the records. But we enjoyed the music of Jonny Cash, Dean Martin, and Ray Charles.
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The interviewees also recalled the time when they had no newspapers. They said that in the 1960s the newspapers came from Beirut several miles away from Dubai. As a result, the newspapers were a week old when they reached the city. Regardless of the date of publication, the city folks purchased the week-old newsprints, because for them the content was not ancient history but something that transpired several days beforehand.
However, there is a big difference between the type of media content available, and this distinction perhaps spelled the difference between the popularity of the radio over the newspaper. Consider for instance the list of popular musicians mentioned earlier; one can argue that people find more pleasure in listening to the radio compared to reading a newspaper. Nevertheless, the frequency in terms of time spent consuming media content was infrequent and unpredictable.
The New Way of Consuming Media
It is interesting to note that there are similarities to the present way of consuming media. If people focus on the type of content and the speed of accessing or acquiring content, there is a huge gap regarding differences. However, if one focuses on the development of the media outlets, its availability, and its popularity one can see that the new way of media consumption shares common ground with the old one.
The critical factor has always been technology and consumer preference. In a chapter of a book entitled Hearing their Voice: When Brand Co-Creation Leads to Social Brand Engagement, the authors asserted that consumer preference is the key characteristic of present-day media creation (Johnson & Kirmani, 2016). However, one can argue that this has been true since the early days of mass media broadcasting. Consumer preferences have always played a crucial part in media development.
Significant differences in the new way of consuming media are manifested in the frequency and the volume of media content consumed on a daily basis. In the past, the consumption was not as frequent, because media content was not available to them every minute. Even when television broadcasting was available, there was a time when TV stations had to sign off late at night or early in the morning. The old way of consuming media content significantly differs from conventional mass media outlets not only from the point of view of acquiring information but also in terms of social media platforms.
However, the frequency and volume are not only affected by technology but also by the ability of the consumer to interact or affect the media content. It is interesting to note that there are similarities to the present way of consuming media. If people focus on the type of content and the speed of accessing or acquiring content, there is a huge gap between media consumption now and then. However, if one focuses on the development of the media outlets, its availability, and its popularity one can see that the old way and the new way of consumption share common ground. Consider another set of interview excerpts to help distinguish the old and new way of consuming media.
Interviewer: In the 1970s you had access to all three mass media platforms?
Interviewee: Yes. We had radio, it was the Abu Dhabi Radio. We also had the first daily newspaper, we called it the Al-Khalij. We also had the first television station, but it was just one channel, and so we called it Dubai 33.
Interviewer: What was your preferred platform and how did you use it?
Interviewee: Me and my family spent a lot of time using the radio. It begins in the morning when we are having breakfast, and it is tuned to a station with a commentator. It was not formal news reporting but there was one radio commentator who talked about current events. At that time the hottest topic was the challenges that Emirates faced after the region became independent from the British Empire. I remember clearly how the radio was positioned in the center of a coffee table near the dining area. Thus, the radio just plays in the background. We are doing what we were supposed to do and there was selective listening to the music or the voice of the announcer. However, whenever there was a special program, I remember gathering around the radio and listening intently to the pleasant voice of the person on the other end giving a detailed description of an event.
It is not difficult to differentiate the old with the new, after considering how present-day consumption involves the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and online newspapers like official websites of CNN and Fox News. In the present time, people do not gather around a device, because it is possible to use portable devices to get information every minute. It is not just one type of media but multiple forms. For example, online newspapers provide information in both visual and audio formats, a luxury that was not available in the past.
Technology was a critical factor, and so was the preference of the consumers. The major difference in the new way of consuming data is not just the technology that speeds up the access to media content, but more importantly the type of technology that allows the consumer to contribute to the type of media that they use. For example, a person near a forest fire can capture a video, upload the video to social media site or send it to a newspaper bureau. The one who took the video is not only a witness, a consumer of media, but also a contributor who shaped the media content that was made available to the public.
The results of the interviews which aimed at finding the differences between old and new ways of consuming media were surprising and enlightening. It was made clear that there are similarities, such as the fact that media consumption is both technology-driven and consumer-driven. There are also apparent differences, such as the availability of a certain type of technology radically altered the type of media that the consumer demanded. Technological features of communication tools and broadcasting facilities also affected the kind of media content that was made available to the consumers. For example, it is now possible for the consumer to interact, modify, and enhance the media content that they can share, transmit or consume. In the past, media consumption was defined by mass media broadcasting and minimal feedback and interaction from the consumers.
Johnson, H., & Kirmani, A. (2016). Hearing their voice: When brand co-creation leads to social brand engagement. In C.V. Dimofte, C.P. Haugtvedt, & R.F. Yalch (Eds.). Consumer psychology in a social media world (pp. 135-150). New York, NY: Routledge.