late 14c., "the act or state of hearing, action or condition of listening," from Old French audience, from Latin audentia "a hearing, listening," from audientum (nominative audiens), present participle of audire "to hear," from PIE compound *au-dh- "to perceive physically, grasp," from root *au- "to perceive."
Meaning "formal hearing or reception, opportunity of being heard" also is from late 14c.; that of "persons within hearing range, assembly of listeners" is from early 15c. (a member of one might be an audient, 1610s). French audience retains only the older senses. Sense transferred by 1855 to "readers of a book," by 1946 to "viewers of television programs." Audience-participation (adj.) is recorded by 1938 in reference to radio.