Monday, July 6, 2009

What PBS can teach us about educational children’s media

PBS Kids recently earned the distinction as the #1 educational children’s media brand, according to a new GFK Roper survey that polled over 1,000 U.S. adults in April, asking questions about PBS Kids as compared to Leapfrog, Nick, Jr., Playhouse Disney, Noggin, Discovery Kids, National Geographic Kids, KOL (a.k.a AOL for Kids) and YahooKids, among others.

Surprise? Not to those who already know and love all things PBS Kids, including popular programs/brands such as Sesame Street, Word World, Super Why and Cyberchase.

According to the study, “PBS KIDS excels at addressing key curriculum areas and children’s cognitive and social/emotional developmental needs. Respondents concurred that PBS succeeds in delivering important topics to young viewers with reading and literacy (80%) ranking as the topic that PBS speaks to best. Other developmental areas that follow literacy include the arts (75%), science/technology/engineering/math (74%), social/emotional development (74%), healthy living (73%), and the environment (71%).”

Can any other educational children's brands be held to such a high standard? Apparently not. Truth be told, the FCC is partially to blame. The Children's Television Act (CTA) enacted by Congress in 1990, requires broadcasters to provide at least three hours a week of educational/informational (E/I) programming for kids between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. But there's no definition of what "educational" actually means. Therefore, it's no big surprise that a 2008 Annenberg study found that merely 25% of E/I shows were of "minimal educational value." Worse, nearly 70% of the shows aimed at school-age kids contained violence and harsh language.

But this blog isn't aimed at parents who have ample reason to turn off their television sets forever. It's targeted at you (and me): the children's media producer, the brand marketer, the content creator, the television executive, the toy licensor; those of us who fuel the amazing machine that churns out kids media and the related "stuff" that goes along with it. You and I both know that a lot of it is pure crap. And that it contains absolutely no educational value whatsoever.

So now what? I say take a few pointers from PBS Kids. Here are a few:

1. Establish a curriculum. Don't know how to do this? Hire a curriculum consultant! There are plenty of them out there and they would love to work with you.
2. Pick a subject area (or two) and stick with it - i.e. math/science, social/emotional, language development. Keep it simple, keep it fun.
3. Form an educational advisory board (yes, with real educators and child development specialists) to review scripts, storyboards, even licensing deals - to ensure that everything is on brand and that the content meets the highest standards possible.
4. Determine how you will measure the success and educational outcomes of your children's media property (hint: your curriculum consultant and/or educational advisory board can help you do this).
5. Get an independent, ideally educationally-based organization to conduct a research study or brand audit. For example, a Georgetown University study, "Educational TV: 30 Years of Sesame Street Research" found that the children who had watched more Sesame Street as young children had higher school performance as adolescents, as measured by grades in English, math, science and overall GPA.

Can your children's media brand pass the test?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I second your opinion on this matter. Personally I have a child that suffers from ADD, and this aspect of child development has left me puzzled on the options that I can take up. Sometimes I am just at my wit's end.