Ethnography of production practices in Kenyan television entertainment programmes: imagining audiences.
How television entertainment programmes producers in Kenya conceptualise audiences is the primary objective of this study. It begins with a brief examination of how the operations of broadcast media institutions in Kenya have been historically linked to government and commerce. Throughout the history of television in Kenya, producers have conceptualised audiences in line with the political, economic and socio-cultural factors that were paramount in the instituting of broadcasting in this society. This historical background continues to shape the character of television entertainment programmes, and therefore how producers conceptualise audiences for these programmes. During their production practices, producers are also influenced by particular communication dynamics within which television programmes are produced and viewed. The dynamics of 'being the audience of television' include that the 'active audience' is autonomous in its various relationships with programmes content, yet the subjectivity of viewers to the institutional systems within which broadcasting happens constrains the audience‘s freedom in how it relates to entertainment programmes. Programme content hails and guides the audience into 'attending' to given shows in specific ways. This study reveals that the audience multi-facetedly relates with entertainment programmes, but the degree to which the audience can exercise its 'will' over the television text is limited. This is because television programmes are constructed meanings, framed and constricted by the elements that constitute them. Also, structures of culture constrain the plurality of the resources audiences have at their disposal as tools for 'reading‘ the programmes. The research-participant producers conceptualised the audience from a 'value-based‘ socio-cultural perspective. Therefore, they attached a kind of magnanimity to television as an institution for influencing in specific ways the segments of society they imagined watched it. Hence, producers of the particular entertainment programmes considered in this case study intended them to represent quality socio-cultural values for the social development of Kenyan society. In agreement with the producers, the audience respondents cited in this study appeared to consider entertainment programmes as important narratives capable of helping them better understand the social world they live in. They saw entertainment programmes as stories that authenticate their world by reflecting that world back to them. Overall, the findings of this case study established that Kenyan producers of television entertainment programmes technically operated within the political economic conventions of television production. However, a strong philosophical, moral-value code appeared to guide the producers‘ sense of purpose and duty to their audience. Apparently, the producers‘ resolve to embed in programmes meanings that propagated particular socio-cultural ideals was as prominent as the institutional political economic objectives for which they were hired to fulfil. This 'extra‘ sense of purpose catalysed the producers‘ unique regard for entertainment programmes as functional narratives, whose primary objective it should be to elevate society‘s moral fabric. Conclusively, the research-participant producers employed an old-fashioned approach to conceptualizing the audience. They saw the audience as congregated in masses of social categories cemented together by a tangible cultural-national identity.