Brought to you by the Parents Television
Network: All Commercials, All the Time
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a
Boston-based advocacy group urging responsible behavior by advertisers in
programming aimed at children, complained to the Federal Communications
Commission about Zevo-3, a new cartoon program
scheduled to premiere October 11 on the kid-centered cable network Nicktoons.
will feature characters based on Skechers, a brand of children's sneakers.
complaint stated that the half-hour cartoon violates the FCC's requirement that
there be a clear distinction between commercial content and programming matter
in the course of a single show.
if Zevo-3 is the source of legitimate concern for parents, what then can
be said about "The Hub," a new cable network set to debut on Sunday, October 10
– a network aimed at viewers ages 2-12 and ENTIRELY DEVOTED to airing glorified
toy and game commercials?
Previously known as
Discovery Kids, the network premiered in
October 1996 and
was devoted to educational programming for children,
much of it with a specific twist to make the shows of particular interest to
kids. Programs about animals (particularly dinosaurs), nature, and
science predominated. But last year, a half-interest in the network was acquired
by global toy manufacturing giant Hasbro, which also runs its own entertainment
production studio. Renamed "The Hub,"
the network will be shown in 60
million homes when it launches its toy-based programming.
youth-oriented networks like Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, which are primarily
aimed at older children and young teens, The Hub is targeting its programming at
preschoolers in the morning and children aged 6-12 in the afternoon.
Yet it is the
programming planned for The Hub which should be of greatest concern to parents.
In addition to R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour (from the author of
Goosebumps, a children's line of suspense novels), The Hub will show
programs based wholly or in part on domestic and foreign children's toy or book
lines. Announced toy-and-game-based programming will include The Transformers,
Transformers: Prime, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, G.I. Joe:
Renegades, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Strawberry
Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures, Pound Puppies, Twisted
Whiskers Deltora Quest, Pictureka, In the Night Garden,
Batman, Batman Beyond, The WotWots, Clue, and Family
Game Night, a live-action game show that will feature families playing
Hasbro games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Cranium. The network will also show
The 99, a superhero cartoon based on the precepts of Islamic religion.
Concerns about the influence of TV commercials on children were first raised in
the 1970s; but after deregulation in the 1980s, a flood of toy-related a series
of cartoons based on toy lines flooded the airwaves. As a result the Children's
Television Act was passed in 1990. The Act was intended both to promote the use
of television as an educational tool, and to help protect children from being
overly influenced by commercials or programs about toys. But given the way
television networks ignore decency laws, it should come as no surprise that they
are equally willing to evade the spirit, if not the letter, of laws intended to
protect children from commercial exploitation. For example, broadcasters often
claim that toy-based cartoons fulfill the requirement that stations air three
hours per week of "educational and informative" programming for children.
Television Act requires that children's programming have no more than 12 minutes
of commercial time per hour Monday through Friday. The Hub has stated that it
will only sell 10 1/2 minutes of ads an hour throughout the week; but
considering most of the network's programs are basically commercials to begin
with, this claim is utterly disingenuous. The Hub partner Hasbro is also in
talks with its chief rival, toy company Mattel, to buy time on the network. Says
The Hub's Senior Vice-President of Advertising Sales, Brooke Goldstein,
companies are out there to sell product, and we're going to get eyeballs and
steal share from [rival networks]. Just from a business perspective, it feels
like it would be a disservice not to create partnerships."
Such a partnership
would not only "sell product," it would also help The Hub with commercial
placement during its programs. By law, a commercial for a particular product
cannot be shown during a program based on that same product – for example, ads
for Transformers toys cannot be shown during the cartoon The Transformers,
and the same applies to other toy brands owned by Hasbro. But by recruiting
Mattel to advertise on the network, advertising to complementary toy brands can
be done. For example, Mattel's toy Polly Pocket could be advertised during My
Little Pony. "If you're trying to reach girls 3 to 5 and you have another
brand that goes after that audience, [you] can own that property," Ms. Goldstein
Every parent knows how powerful and pervasive an influence TV has on children. A
simple trip to a grocery store can turn into an endless series of pleadings for
specific brands of breakfast cereals or snack foods; and TV-fueled desires for
toys and games are even stronger. Parents do not need the additional pressure
this network will apply; nor do they need to have a portion of their monthly
cable or satellite subscription fees go to support a network designed solely to
sell toys and games to their children. More importantly, children do not need an
entire network devoted to brainwashing them into demanding yet more goods many
parents can scarcely afford. Most of all, it is tragic that a network previously
devoted to providing children with education, and teaching them that learning
can be fun, should exploit youngsters' curiosity and innocence by viewing them
merely as consumers.
This column was compiled from reports by the Parents
Television Council’s Analysis staff.