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What is the difference in usage between these three words for "audience"?

観客{かんきゃく} (audience, spectators)

聴衆{ちょうしゅう} (audience, attendees)

観衆{かんしゅう} (audience, onlookers)

The dictionary definitions offer variations, but, none of those variations clearly make any of the three mutually exclusive from each other. It doesn't seem wrong to choose any of those to describe a group of people at a live performance.

In other words, as far as I can tell, if one wanted to say, "The audience at yesterday's show was rowdy," all these would convey the same meaning:

昨日{きのう}のショーの観客{かんきゃく}は[騒々]{そうぞう}しかった。

昨日{きのう}のショーの聴衆{ちょうしゅう}は[騒々]{そうぞう}しかった。

昨日{きのう}のショーの観衆{かんしゅう}は[騒々]{そうぞう}しかった。

Does changing the word for "audience" change the impression of what kind of show it was? Are any of them incorrect?

What are examples where one is acceptable and another not which clearly differentiate them?

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Ah people at the movie theater would be 観客, not 視聴者. –  Chocolate Jan 15 '12 at 14:49
    
Typo? しようしゃ --> しちょうしゃ (Furigana of 視聴者) –  fefe Jan 15 '12 at 14:51
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

視聴者:A person watching and listening to a radio or television program.

観客:Someone watching a movie, play, sporting event, etc.

聴衆:A group of people assembled to hear a concert, etc.

観衆:A large group of people gathered to see a performance, event, etc.

I'm mostly just literally translating dictionary definitions here, but I think this should help you appreciate the differences between the words. A lot of it hinges on the type of medium being enjoyed and the size of the group (single or multiple people).

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Please read more carefully: in my opinion, these definitions are pretty distinct. To elaborate: as I said, a lot of it hinges on the medium. 聴衆 is for an audio performance, whereas 観客 and 観衆 (with singular and collective meanings, respectively) are for performances that you watch more than listen to. And 視聴者 is a passive listener or watcher of a streamed medium from far away. The situations in which you would use each of these words overlap at points, but are largely different ones. –  NattyBumppo Jan 16 '12 at 1:41
    
In general, 観衆 is a more common word that 聴衆. Since you're also viewing most of the things you listen to, if it's a concert, for example, both 観衆 and 聴衆 are acceptable. Just Google "コンサートの_____" to see what I mean. 聴衆 doesn't work for events that you don't listen to, however--Google "試合の_____" to see how different the number of hits are between 聴衆 and 観衆. In general, the difference between 観衆 and 観客 is only one of collective versus individual. Hopefully that clears it up for you. –  NattyBumppo Jan 16 '12 at 7:55
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