On the ominous-sounding date of 10/10/10, the world will receive a new children’s TV channel, called the Hub. This new channel is the combined forces of two seemingly different companies: Discovery Communications and Hasbro. Margaret Loesch, a TV exec best known from her experience with the Fox Kids Network, is President and CEO of the joint venture. I have incredibly mixed emotions about hearing this news and wish to share my thoughts.
My first job out of college was an internship at the Center for Media Education in Washington, DC where I learned all about the Children’s Television Act (CTA) of 1990. This piece of legislation was mostly about mandating three hours of “educational” material every week for broadcast channels. While the term “educational” has been debated over the years, there was another point made in this law to prevent the kind of “program-length commercials” seen in the 1980′s. In other words, the intention of the law was to protect children, who are incredibly susceptible to consumerist messages in television, from commercials with toy tie-ins to the show they are watching. This is especially the case when the whole point of the show was to sell the toys (e.g., My Little Pony) and then was followed by an ad for the product. The Hub, however, is a cable channel and therefore not under mandates of the CTA. (The CTA of 1990 only applied to broadcast channels. Doesn’t the term ‘broadcast channel’ sound so quaint?) Therefore, as you can guess, a toy company having half-ownership of a children’s channel can only mean one thing: They are going to be selling their toys directly to kids as program-length commercials. I’m not the only one who has voiced this concern; The LA Times has voiced concern, as well as TV Week, among others.
When I look at the list of shows the Hub is going to be airing, a touch of nostalgia washes over me. Yes, I grew up watching TV in the ’70s and ’80s when kids’ TV had no regulations and most of it was really bad… but at the same time,I do have a strange fondness for television fare from my childhood. More importantly, I cannot help but think that people my age who liked these show in the first place might have kids now and would actually want to watch these shows WITH their kids. The co-viewing possibilities are there, to say the least. Yes, shows like G.I. Joe and My Little Pony make me cringe a little, but I must admit that I am very interested in Fraggle Rock, which is also on their programming list. In addition, a new show called Family Game Night is screaming for co-viewing: Families compete in classic board games made life-size. So no, these are not the most educational programs out there, but I do feel that children can learn quite a bit from their parents while watching together, nonetheless. (Perhaps this will even get Ginia Bellafante of the NY Times to stop whining about the lack of kids’ TV that is watchable to her.) In addition, this channel is aiming at an audience often ignored: 6-12 year-olds. That’s the age that parents often stop co-viewing with their children, so the Hub is offering the perfect opportunity for them to continue.
You can see that there are strong arguments on both sides. I asked David Kleeman, the President of the American Center for Children and Media (ACCM), for his thoughts on this. While he offered full disclosure that the ACCM has Discovery/ The Hub as one of its guiding and supporting organizations, I still respect his opinion on this. This is what he told me: “Margaret Loesch is an experienced and very smart programmer, and an even better strategist. She knows that kids will quickly see through a channel that looks like one long commercial; it’s not a sustainable strategy. I’ve been encouraged by some of their acquisitions and developments — no one else dared to bring the amazing In the Night Garden from Anne Wood to the US. Will The Hub be PBS? No, but let’s wait and watch before deciding what it will be.”
So, okay, I will hold off on proclaiming how I feel the Hub. After all, it only seems fair. But parents and teachers of children 6-12, please weigh in on this: Will you be watching this new channel with your kids? Feel free to leave a comment.