PBS kidvid is ranked high in quality, declines in parents' esteem
Originally published in Current, July 19, 1999
By Karen Everhart Bedford
Studies measuring the quality of children's television found improvements in both the quality and quantity of programs available to kids in 1998-99--and judged that cable channels are gaining esteem among parents as good sources of programming.
The fourth annual study, released in June by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, assessed the overall quality and educational content of children's programming and measured changes in uses and public perceptions of children's media.
The survey found a continued decline in the percentage of parents who believe the best shows for children are found on PBS--from a high of 61.1 percent in 1997 to 44.3 percent this year, and a small increase in the percentage of those who cite cable channels, now up to 38.4 percent.
"The study in general was very favorable," commented Tom Epstein, PBS spokesman. "It showed that we have the highest quality, most educational, and least violent programming on the air." He attributed gaps between public perceptions of quality and Annenberg's assessments to the cable competition's aggressive marketing. "We all know that other channels spend an enormous amount on advertising, and we spend very little--especially on kids."
While parents' esteem was measured by surveying parents, the quality assessment was made by teams of academic specialists. To assess quality, the study sampled children's programs broadcast in Philadelphia over three separate weeks in September and December 1998 and March 1999. It measured the availability and characteristics of kids' shows, and rated both their educational content and overall quality, based on several criteria. The criteria used this year were revised to include the gender and ethnic diversity of characters, problematic language, and sexual references. Criteria carried over from previous evaluations were the presence of a clear, well-integrated lesson promoting cognitive learning or the social, emotional or physical well-being of children; depictions of violence; and a subjective assessment of each program's overall value.
Across all channels, 37 percent of the shows were rated as high quality; 37 percent, moderate; and 26 percent, low. While comparisons to last year's findings are problematic due to the new criteria, the findings suggest a decrease in the percentage of low-quality shows. The proportion of high-quality ones remains flat.
Forty-nine percent of the kids' shows were found to be highly educational; 12 percent, moderately so; and 14 percent, at the low end of the scale. Another 25 percent had no educational content whatsoever.
PBS was pictured as far and away the best source of high-quality programs: it broadcast 194 programs that qualified as high quality--twice as many as its nearest competitor, Nickelodeon.
PBS's overall quality ratings combined evaluations of the kidvid lineups of WHYY in Philly, the New Jersey Network and WLVT in Allentown. Eighty percent of the children's shows on these stations were judged to be of high quality, and 20 percent of moderate quality.
Eighty-five percent of the programs aired by these stations qualified as educational; the study did not specify which programs did not merit this label. Kidvid line-ups for channels offering far fewer programs--A&E, Discovery and the History Channel--were found to be 100 percent educational.
Nickelodeon's line-up was only 47 percent educational, and 44 percent of its programs of high quality. But the survey of parents showed that Nick is gaining esteem in their eyes. When asked to name up to five programs that they believe are the best shows for kids, most parents named Sesame Street, Barney and the "Nickelodeon network." The Discovery Channel ranked fourth, followed by Nick's Blues Clues. Last year, three PBS shows--Barney, Sesame Street and Arthur made the top five with Nick's Rugrats and Blues Clues.
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