Channel One Is Not Intended For Pre-Teens

September 24, 1997

Although Channel One says a school may show its TV show from 12th grade to 6th, they state repeatedly, in their own contract and sales literature, that the show is intended for teenagers. This ambiguity puts middle school principals and their superintendents and school boards in an awkward position. 6th and 7th grade students are mostly pre-teens. Should a school that has bought Channel One’s sales pitch make pre-teens watch?

In the Channel One contract with the Vestavia Hills (Alabama) school board, Channel One states they will provide "…a daily 12-minute newscast specifically designed by Whittle for teenagers which will include up to two minutes of commercial content." (Whittle Communications’ Educational Network District Agreement, General Terms page 2) "The editorial content will include current events and news material of an educational nature intended to be of interest to teenagers." (B. Whittle Agreements, #4, page 3) However, in Section D (1) (page 6), Channel One says: "To qualify for the Network, a school must have only grades six through twelve or any configuration thereof." That is the section that throws schools off. It gives the impression that showing Channel One to pre-teens is age-appropriate. [Make no mistake about Obligation’s observations of Channel One: This TV show is not good for any youth.] They leave themselves "wiggle room" by never actually saying a school has to show it to 6th and 7th grades.

This is a contract with the original owners of Channel One, Whittle Communications. The contract must have been assigned to the new owners K-III, because this was the only contract our school system had in 1996, two years after the buy-out. There may be newer contracts out from K-III that says Channel One is specifically designed for teenagers and pre-teens, but we are unaware of any. Obligation would appreciate a copy of your school district’s contract with Channel One. All you have to do is go to your local school system’s central office and request a copy of the contract. Usually, your local middle school or high school will not have the contract.

Channel One sales literature also says it is for teenagers. "If you’re looking to reach teens, Channel One has 8.3 million of them. That’s more teens than you’ll find anywhere on TV, including the Super Bowl. That’s because Channel One delivers directly to teens. … And since our programming is designed with teens in mind, teens really pay attention to what we have to say. … If teens are your target audience, give us a call to find out how the Channel One team can deliver them…" ("We Beat the Bowl" ad in Advertising Age)

This company even has a newsletter directed at potential advertisers. It’s called " Newsletter". "It’s easy to see the impact Channel One has on the way teenagers view their world. And with more teens watching Channel One than all prime-time network, cable and syndicated programming combined, that impact goes a very long way. Call Martin Grant, President of Sales and Marketing, at 212-508-6800. Because as the only daily news network created just for teenagers, Channel One does more than just reach 8.1 million teens. It gets to them." ( from a two-page ad in Advertising Age, April 15, 1996) "Huge ratings. Unsurpassed reach. Unparalleled impact among teen viewers." ("Channel One is viewed by more teens than any other program on television" sales flyer, 1996)

Channel One is not only a company that has redefined what is appropriate for school children to see in school, they also have redefined, literally, the word "teenager." Most people would say a child becomes a teenager when he or she turns thirteen. Channel One now says a teenager for their marketing purposes is anyone 12 to 17. They are apparently molding the definition of "teenager" to suit their audience, so their sales literature can make various claims. One only needs to watch the show to realize it isn’t meant for pre-teens.

When the Marines and U.S. Army advertise to this audience, it is doubtful they are targeting an eleven year old boy or girl. The drug stories often are geared to older high school students and college-age students. The company is pushing their SAT-prep course to the Channel One viewers. Their website is reviewing R-rated movies and explicit-content CDs. Is this done for pre-teens? Channel One routinely interviews children to get their thoughts on a news story or a youthful perspective on an issue. They are almost always from a "Channel One school" (which is self-promotion of Channel One). Obligation has reviewed over 50 shows last school year and only one 12 year old was ever interviewed.

There is good reason why pre-teens aren’t asked their opinions or asked to be a "on-the-scene" student reporter. High school students would quickly tune-out the show if it catered to its middle school audience. There are indications, here in Alabama, that Channel One is already less attractive to high school students than it is to middle school students. Parents of pre-teens and elementary school students should ask their school boards to immediately remove all pre-teens from the mandatory Channel One viewing.