Rational Wizards: Audience Interpreters in French Television
VIEW Journal , Volume 2 - Issue 4 p. 68- 78
This paper will tell the story of the small group of people who, in France, have been in charge of the measurement and the appreciation of television audiences, and had to invent audience research. They had to organize it and to communicate its results to ‘clients’ who depended on it much earlier than usually assumed. These ‘clients’ were: television managers and professionals, public authorities, and, last but not least, advertisers. The paper will explore how the professional origin and training of measurers has changed over the years: from having an almost literary background to having a formation in sociology and semiology. It gives insights into how the roles of measurers changed from assessing viewers’ satisfactions, preferences and viewing habits from 1949 until the mid-60s, to producing audience figures from the mid-60s to the mid 70s and more and more to providing daily, detailed, and quickly produced figures of the audience through audiometers by the mid-80s and afterwards. Despite these changes, the need for effective mediations existed all along.Those mediators - the figures and reports - played several roles. Particularly - and this is true today - they provided channel managers with a source of ‘para-democratic legitimacy.’ For the ‘profession’ of measurers, this means that they have always played an important role, as spokespersons of the audience, equipped with an almost magical kind of knowledge: they had the power to ‘read’ the will and whims of a mysterious, anonymous mass of viewers.