The Cultural Opportunity of Children's Television: Public Policies in Digital Television

Article excerpt

Introduction

This paper asks whether there are technological convergence opportunities in the current multimedia process, and whether this process could become a key place to think about development, combating poverty, and working for equity. Would it be possible to make conceptual, political, and strategic links in order to design cultural policies in the audiovisual industry, which contribute to development, to equity, and to both humanistic and public (or citizenship) values?

My answer will seek to show the political and cultural opportunity presented to Latin America to articulate digital television technology (as stated in the Japanese-Brazilian standard) with a "peculiarly educational" children's programming (that aims at other than formal schooling). I will argue towards the opportunity of generating public policies for digital television in order to create channels segmented for the children's audience. I will also highlight the cultural potential of the "educational" contribution that some children's television programs can make, particularly those targeted at children from birth to 10 years old, that is, the pre-school and elementary school stages. The text presents quantitative and qualitative information that points to a complex interface between audiovisual language with its semiotic-cultural forms of edu-entertainment (education and entertainment) and the viewing situation at home in interaction with the receiver's neurobiology.

Indeed, the choice of most Latin American countries for the Japanese-Brazilian standard for digital Television (ISDB-T with MPEG 4) offers the possibility for increasing the number of television channels available on terrestrial digital television, that is, more channels that the audience can get without paying for cable or satellite delivery. This technological standard will allow a station to broadcast two high definition signals (HD) and up to seven signals in standard definition (SD) on the same physical 6 MHz channel. With this technique, a condition that provides a greater abundance of television channels appears as a valuable socio-cultural opportunity: Public broadcasters can operate a segmented digital channel aimed at children's audience. I propose, therefore, a public policy in television to embrace this digital opportunity and create a children's channel with specific educational programming; education different from that which occurs in formal schooling and education targeted to a audience that should have social priority. Children's television must be understood as a way of segmented programming produced and broadcast for a children's audience; segmentation is therefore by audience rather than by thematic grouping, as in other television genres. Current children's television requires abandoning the traditional demonizing of television and weighting more reasonably the "educational" specificity that children's television can offer, as well as its limitations.

1. Changes in the Children's Television Landscape

A. "Baby TV"

Baby television channels (that is, those developed for and aimed at infants) have been created in the 21st century, with special programs. Israel created The Baby TV Channel in 2003 in a partnership between Fox and other participants (www.babytvchannel.com). The Baby First TV Channel appeared in the United States in 2006 (www.babyfirsttv.com). Fox Life's cable network has transmitted some programs of the Israeli channel to Latin America on Saturday and Sunday mornings; DirecTV offers Baby First TV by satellite. Both are channels free of commercial advertising. These segmented Baby Television channels target babies from 0-2 years and differ thematically from children's channels aimed at the 2-6 year-old audience, which were created mostly in the early '90s.

Limitations of Baby TV. No programming or television program has the potential to substitute for the irreplaceable triple stimulation of the family for babies from 0-2 years (toddlers): auditory stimulation, visual stimulation, and tactile-kinetic stimulation. …