In the late 1980s Chris Whittle realised that teenagers were “the new pipeline into American households.” To take advantage of this pipeline, Whittle Communications founded Channel One. From 1990 Channel One loaned schools VCRs, televisions and a satellite dish “in exchange for students’ minds for 12 minutes each day.”
Channel One Sales Tape, 1997, from Jim Metrock
By 2007 Channel One was being shown to 7 million students across the nation – 30 percent of middle and high school students in the US. It has been banned in high schools in the state of New York.
Alloy Media and Marketing took over Channel One in 2007. Alloy is already oriented towards advertising and marketing to children. It runs various virtual worlds for children, including Habbo Hotel, and claims to be have the industry’s largest in-school advertising network of media boards covering 8 million US students. It also produces Careers & Colleges magazine, which is distributed to over 10,000 high schools and provides its clients with “unique advertising opportunities”. Alloy says it targets teens 24 hours a day 7 days a week and tells its clients: “We have the power to connect you to students… our print and web products reach them at home, school, and online to meet your specific marketing goals.”
Channel One’s contract with schools requires 90 per cent of the students at a school to watch the 12 minute program 90 per cent of the time, from beginning to end and without interruption. That 12 minutes includes 2 minutes of advertising paid for by companies selling products like snack and fast foods, cosmetics, videos, video games, athletic shoes, movies and television shows.
Channel One marketers can promise their advertisers an environment without “the usual distractions of telephones, stereos, remote controls, etc.” It is also an opportunity to reach children who don’t watch television much at home. The children are a captive audience.
Students in schools with Channel One are required to attend to the television screen in a fashion unprecedented in the history of the medium, they watch ads in a structured environment with an authority figure demanding their attention. They watch in an environment of peer influence.
The deal is quite coercive for schools that sign up for a three year contract. If they break the contract, for example if teachers interrupt or turn off the broadcast whilst it is being aired, then schools are “financially liable for the cost of cabling school buildings and for the removal of video equipment.”
Channel One facilities are found mainly in poorer neigbourhoods. Schools that can afford their own video equipment tend to reject the deal and sign up with a commercial-free news program.
In a study investigating the effects of Channel One advertising, researchers at Michigan State University found that children exposed to it “expressed more consumer-oriented attitudes than nonviewers” and had more materialistic attitudes.
Whilst children often watch ads on television at home it has been found that discussing the ads with parents negates the effect of the ads to some extent and reduces the subsequent materialism in children whereas Channel One precludes that. The researchers concluded that “advertising to school students is harmful to their value system.”
Another study by a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia, found that most teenagers were quite naive about the advertisements they saw on Channel One and did not view them as an attempt to sell a product or service. They were not always able to distinguish between advertisements and news items. One Pepsi advertisement, which less than half the students identified as a real advertisement, even confused the student teacher.
A study of 3000 Channel One viewing students in North Carolina found that most of them thought the products advertised would be good for them because they were being shown the advertisements at school.
A recent study found that students watching Channel One remembered more advertisements than news stories and younger children remembered more advertisements than older children. The students had purchased an average of 2.5 items out of 11 items advertised on Channel One in the previous 3 months. And 27 percent believed the commercials had been approved by their teachers.
Other researchers have found that the news content of Channel One’s broadcast also leaves a lot to be desired. It is made up of three minutes of world and national news and seven minutes of “news magazine features of interest to adolescents.”
It is “too fast-paced and fragmented to deepen student’s understanding of current events” and many of the news features promote entertainment and products, for example, an item on how Nike shoes are made or one on the popularity of Ninja Turtles.
The whole broadcast is produced with techniques normally used for video clips. Speech is twice as fast as normal for both news and advertisements, and news items are very short - in fact shorter than the advertisements.
Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of journalism, observed: “I found that the outright commercials were less worrisome than the so-called news segments themselves, which were more often than not pro-business propaganda.”
BusRadio is a national radio program that is broadcast exclusively to US school buses and offers advertisers “a unique and effective way to reach the highly sought after teen and tween market”. There are 8 minutes of advertising in every hour of broadcast plus 2 minutes for contests. Most of the rest is music and news.
The Campaign for a Commerical-Free Childhood (CCFC) argued that apart form the 8 minutes of advertising "BusRadio exploits the relationship between its on-air personalities and young listeners by having its DJs pitch products directly to students, a practice which is prohibited by the FCC in broadcast media for children". The Federal Communications Commission agreed with this in a recent report .
In September 2009, after a three year CCFC campaign against it, Bus Radio was taken off the air.
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