Children's programs vanishing from TV
By Lynn Elber
The number of broadcast TV programs for children dropped sharply after independent local stations were swallowed up in media mergers, according to a new study.
Children Now, a child research and advocacy group, examined consolidation among television stations in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city and media market.
The study, released May 21, examined one week of the seven primary commercial broadcast stations in 1998 and 2003. Overall, it found a 47 percent decrease in children's shows, with the loss of three hours of TV on Saturday, four hours on Sunday and 90 minutes on weekdays.
The biggest drop in kids' programming occurred at "duopolies" two stations in the same market owned by one company, Children Now said.
One example cited in the study involves stations owned by media giant News Corp. In 1998, then-independent KCOP aired 14 shows and Fox's KTTV offered 21 shows aimed at children. By 2003, after KCOP became part of Fox parent News Corp., the figures dropped to four children's show for KCOP and seven shows for KTTV.
Among the three stations that are not part of a duopoly, far fewer changes were made in the children's lineup. They averaged a 12 percent drop in program hours, according to Children Now.
Many children's series on stations owned by large media corporations, such as Disney and Viacom, were found by researchers to be repeats of shows that also aired on jointly owned cable channels. Such repeats have nearly quadrupled since 1998, the study said.
Children Now said its research should be considered as the Federal Communications Commission is poised to overhaul media ownership restrictions.
"We think our study is the canary in the coal mine, indicating that relaxing these rules can have a serious impact on availability and diversity in children's programming," said Patti Miller, director of Children Now's Children & the Media program.
"I definitely think there is a connection," Miller said. "We think the FCC needs to consider the needs of kids before changing media ownership rules on June 2."
But David Boylan, vice president and general manager of KTTV and KCOP, said blaming the loss of children's shows on duopolies ignores a fundamental shift in TV.
"The reduction of children's programming is not at all related to duopoly," Boylan said. "It's related to competition from cable channels that now specialize in that genre."
He cited cable channel Nickelodeon, which caters exclusively to children and has become a kiddie programming powerhouse.
While children's shows were dropped from the Fox-owned stations, so-called "enrichment," or educational, programs required by the FCC are still aired three to four hours weekly, Boylan said.
Potential causes of the drop were not part of the study, said lead researcher Christy Glaubke. "So we can't speak from an empirical perspective," she said. "But we can speculate about the reasons. Children's shows can be expensive to produce, and good kids' shows are very expensive, so it's fair to assume it's for financial reasons."
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