The Role of ‘Free’ Media
All of the media being produced today is created for a specific purpose. While media is created for art and entertainment, it also has an ulterior motive—profit—and producers and consumers are vital for this aspect. Producers can be anything from Walmart to Instagram, while consumers are us—the eyes, ears, and mouths keeping the producers afloat. Everything that is created has a producer and a consumer. Movies, television shows, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and even text messages need a producer and consumer. They are what create, form, and shape media and are what caused it to progress to how it is today.
With the concept of producers and consumers comes the idea of the audience as a commodity. The increased creation of profited media brings about the need to buy the watching eyes of consumers. Apps like Facebook and Instagram do not charge a fee to create an account, so they must commodify their audience in order to generate a profit. Users’ eyes are being sold to advertisers, their ads seamlessly sliding into our social media feeds, either through brand advertisements or sponsored blog posts.
The ‘free lunch’—a portion of free content that lures consumers in, encouraging them to then buy the full product—is increasingly present in everything consumers see. Our eyes are either being sold to advertisements or we are being lured into spending money to consume content that does not have advertisements. Either way, producers profit off of their consumers.
Not only are consumers’ eyes being bought, but their data and information are being accessed and sold as well. Terms of Service agreements hide clauses wherein producers gather and sell users’ personal information as well as browsing habits. This information is then sold to advertisers and used to craft more effective, targeted ads based on consumers’ personal information. Advertisement companies then get paid to help producers utilize this information to lure in more consumers. It is a never-ending cycle: producers take data, sell said data to advertisers, advertisers then use this data to help other producers market ads, et cetera, et cetera.
As consumers we have to remember that producers need us more than we need them. Our eyes and clicks are their commodities; if something online is free, it’s not the product – it’s us.