Children and the media
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Television and the young
While television has yet to penetrate vast populations of young
people, children's television is already big business and a growth
The world's four biggest television channels - Nickelodeon, Cartoon
Network, The Disney Channel, Fox Kids' Network - are all based in
North America but broadcast throughout the world. They have achieved
their dominance in less than 10 years.
Much of children's television output is now linked - through advertising,
product placement, and licensing - to the retailing of toys, books,
electronic games and other items.
American producers benefit from the economies of scale because
their domestic market is now so huge. As a consequence, local production
of children's programmes elsewhere has begun to shrink, even in
Europe. Inevitably the cultural values that predominate reflect
those of the producers rather than their diverse markets. Although
local production is now being developed to meet the needs of European
consumers, it will be some time before this trend reaches less developed
Eastern Europe, once well served by locally produced children's
programming, has come to rely on foreign imports. In Latin America,
children of parents who can afford access to cable channels have
to rely largely on imported programming. In North Africa, where
50 per cent of the population is under 30 years old, there is no
indigenous children's programming. And while post-apartheid South
Africa has seen an upsurge in the production of children's programmes,
like the rest of the continent, where children have access to television,
the schedules are packed with products from the English-speaking
The arrival of digital television has increased opportunities for
niche marketing, allowing European channels to reach out to international
markets that share the same language. The potential of digital could
mean that tomorrow's children will be far better served with culturally
appropriate material than today's.
However plans by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the
United Kingdom's leading public service broadcaster, to launch two
interactive digital channels dedicated to young children and teenagers,
met with opposition from commercial broadcasters.
The key challenge to be addressed by those who are investing resources
in children's productions, or who are engaged in the process, is
examining how far the best interests of their young viewers have
been considered in commissioning, making and marketing the programme.
They should also be aware of those young viewers who do not share
their own cultural values.
When conducting market research about television programmes for
children, the opinions of children from potential non-domestic markets
might also be canvassed, and opportunities should be created for
children to express their reactions to programmes directed at them.
The following question should always be asked: is the primary purpose
of the programme to persuade children or young people to buy, or
desire, a secondary product; or has it been commissioned for its
entertainment, informational or educational value?
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