When almost an entire population depends on television for its news, and its political leaders accord almost miraculous powers to the medium, and gobble one commercial channel after another, wouldn't those political leaders want anxiously to know what viewers make of the news? Isn't viewer-processing as vital to their strategy as message-creation? In today's Russia these are vital questions, on which careers and huge resources can ride – and, strangely enough, the answer to both these questions is “no.” The other side of the television screen – the one where the viewers are arrayed – is invisible. Agreement with the message is assumed. Hence, the question: what if the “reception” on the other side of the screen was actually confounding and contradicting the leaders’ assumptions every day, and by what method are viewers able to do thus?
These are the research problems that drive this study. The findings may vary for young and old, for citizens of Volgograd, or Rostov, or Nizhny Novgorod, or Moscow, for the college-educated and for those who stopped after high school. In the end, the invisible viewers take shape. Concepts of Russian television have been the subject of numerous studies: there is much information on ownership of television channels, both national and regional. There is, equally, a good deal of scholarship on the content of television news and entertainment.