Archive for the 'Television' Category

A Conversation With Vicky Rideout

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Summarizing “Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use in America 2013″

[The following is an article I wrote for the November 2013 issue of Children’s Technology Review. A PDF copy of the article from this magazine can be downloaded here.]

A photo of Vicky Rideout from an earlier 2013 presentation

For those of us that work in children’s media, there’s nothing like finding a fresh, data filled report.

Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use in America 2013” is Vicki Rideout’s latest in a series of reports commissioned by Common Sense Media. Having followed Vicky’s work for more than a decade, I asked her for an overview of her findings.

The first key finding is this: Television and video game use is down for children compared to just two years ago. (Yes, down, not up!) In addition, overall screen media use is down compared to what was recorded just two years ago.

Television viewing in the bedroom is also down by a sizable amount. As with the television and video game drop Vicky says “I’d like to look back on these data points from a future report to see if this is a bump or a trend.” This finding does beg some additional questions that cannot be answered through the report, like has there been a drop in the number of televisions owned in the home? Has the drop in television viewing in the bedroom shifted to video viewing on a tablet in the bedroom? Vicky says it is too early to tell if this is a trend.

According to Rideout “Little drops in each platform add up to a half hour of less screen time per day on traditional screens. Then when you add in the increase in mobile use it brings that number down to 20 minutes less screen time per day. While this drop in overall screen time is significant and noteworthy, I’d like to see what the research says in another two years.”

There’s a lot of material in this report about tablet and related mobile media use. For example, two years ago only 8% of parents owned a tablet. “Today it’s 40% and children’s tablet ownership is nearly similar to that of their parents from the 2011 report. Years ago handheld video game manufacturers noted that when an older sibling purchased a new handheld gaming device, a younger sibling would ultimately receive the older device. Could the same thing be happening here with parents purchasing a new tablet and giving the children their old one? This report can’t answer that question specifically, but one thing is clear: Tablet ownership by children will increase in the years to come.

Another key trend: there is a giant shift in media use, and “the tablet is a game changer.” Vicky told me that there is “some computer use among young children, starting as early as four years of age, but because the tablet has simplified the interface so much and made things so intuitive, we see really young children successfully using this platform. If a one or two year old child can turn the pages of a board book, that same child can touch and swipe a tablet. If that child can point to an image on a board book, then that child can launch an app. As a result, a large world of content is made available to these young children. The floor for how young children use this platform has gone way down compared to other technological innovations, even compared to the Wii, which was a huge leap forward in terms of intuitive use and interface deign.”

In addition Vicky notes: “People keep saying how children are so technologically smart. We have that notion backwards. It’s the technology that’s become smart, so smart that a kid, or even a baby can use it. This change is also opening up access to content that is not just about passive video watching.

“People keep asking me ‘Is this a good thing or a bad thing?’ Unless you believe that a screen per se is a bad thing for kids no matter what, I usually respond that this is just a thing, it’s just a tablet. The good or bad about a tablet depends on the quality of the content you share with a child through this new medium.”

Vicky’s comments just begin to scratch the surface of what’s included in this new report. However, Vicky also shared she is working on a new report, focused on the same zero to eight demographic, but this time she’s writing it for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. This report will take a deep dive into educational media, eBooks, and joint media engagement (a fancy term for parents who share in the same media experience with their child). The scheduled date of release is January 23, 2014. We look forward to reading more!

Related links:

Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013
Common Sense Media

VIDEO – Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology – Vicky Rideout interview (2013)
360KID

Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology (2013)
Northwestern University


VIDEO – Vicky Rideout interview – Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use Research Overview (2011)

360KID

Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America (2011)
Common Sense Media

Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds (2010)
Kaiser Family Foundation


Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Yr-olds (2005)

Kaiser Family Foundation

The Effects of Electronic Media on Children Ages Zero to Six: A History of Research (2005)
Kaiser Family Foundation

Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers (2003)
Kaiser Family Foundation

Kids & Media @ The New Millennium (1999)
Kaiser Family Foundation

Research Watch – Children and Screens

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

[The following is an article I wrote for the November 2011 issue of Children’s Technology Review.]

This last month was a big one for new research unveiled about kids and media use, a least in terms of Google new alerts. Here’s a look beyond the headlines.

Event #1: The AAP Position Statement

Ari Brown, MD presents the updated AAP Policy Statement for media use and children ages zero to two years old

In mid-October the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) made a statement regarding media use for young children ages 0 to 2 years of age at the AAP National Conference held in Boston. Media research fans may remember the AAP released a position statement over a decade ago stating screened media use for children ages 0 to 2 should be avoided entirely because there is no proof that television can be of educational value to children at such an early age. Fast forward to last month and the policy statement is pretty much the same. TV at this early age is still not educational. But hasn’t the media delivery landscape evolved from passive to interactive? What about all of those iPhones, iPads, tablets and other mobile devices? Should young children avoid using these devices as well? The AAP was much more presentation savvy with their announcement this time around, however. They acknowledged in their press announcement that the realities of being a parent with a young child mean that sometimes a television is used to pacify a child so the parent can take a shower or cook dinner. The AAP acknowledges that screen use is almost at two hours a day for some the youngest media consumers. However, the AAP could not make any recommendations related to interactive media. While there is a mountain of research available related to linear video viewing, there just aren’t many studies available regarding interactive screen use, for any age group.

Event #2: Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America

Vicky Rideout presents the latest media use findings for children ages zero to eight years old

Exactly one week after that AAP press event Common Sense Media held its own media event in Washington DC: a survey of families regarding the use of media with children 0 to 8 years of age. This time, the survey considered interactive media useage. You may recall that Vicky Rideout used to work with the Kaiser Family Foundation, and was a lead researcher on a series of studies related to children, media use, and health. She coordinated three 5-year surveys of media use across a wide range of platforms, ages, ethnicities and socio-economic groups. When Vicky announced in March, 2010 that she would be moving on from Kaiser, the media research space collectively wondered “Would we ever see another five year media study again?” Thankfully we recently found out the answer was a resounding yes! Not only did this new report cover areas of concern by the AAP, but it also provided great insight into the iPad/iPhone/mobile and interactive screened media world for kids. One of the most shocking data points in this study was the percentage of televisions found in a child’s bedroom. 30% of all children age 0 to 1, 44% of all children ages 2 to 4, and 47% of children ages 5 to 8 have a television in their bedroom! The scariest part of this data is these numbers are just averages. When you tease out percentages for ethnic groups and low-income families these numbers rise, and by a lot!

Another surprising data point was the percentage of children that have used interactive devices like the iPad. That number is only 7%. A handful of people have asked me, “Is that right?” First, this number is an average across all ages and as you slice the data the percentages rise as a child ages and lower for younger children. Again, this percentage drops significantly with ethnic groups and low-income families. What we also learn from this number is that television is a primary source of educational content for non-white and lower income families. The question I ask an eager iPad development community “Are we creating apps in an attempt to provide really great learning opportunities for all children when the reality is only a small sliver of economically advantaged children actually benefit from our apps?” Another surprising number, among the poorest households 38% of respondents didn’t know what an “app” was. This paper describes a new trend referred to the “app gap.” Those of us working in the children’s software space have long theorized that kids are spending more time with interactive media, games, handhelds and iPads and less time watching television. This latest report says no, television is still very much the leading device, alive and well more than we ever could have imagined. But wait, that’s a research slice in time that has already passed! In conversations with Vicky she suggests that the world of screened media for kids, be it interactive or passive, is changing very fast. Reports she was part of that came out every five years are not able to accurately capture the incremental changes in the children’s technology space. Thankfully additional reports may be on the horizon in two, probably three more years says Vicky.

So what are the main take-aways? Television is still very prominent in the lives of children ages 0 to 8. Just three years ago researchers were not aware of the influence the app concept would have in the children’s media space. Apps didn’t exist. Change is happening, but not equally for all children. Television still remains the best way to reach young children with educational content, especially children in socio-economically disadvantaged homes. However, there is now no doubt that interactive media is changing the media landscape.

Referenced research links:

The Thin Line Between Education and Entertainment

Friday, May 13th, 2011

[The following is a piece I wrote for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center‘s 2011 Leadership Forum, Learning from Hollywood, a cross-industry event that will explore new ways of bridging the perceived gap between entertainment and education. The event will be held in Los Angeles at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on May 16 & 17. ]

If you were challenged to define what math is, what would you say? How about science? What makes the two different, or maybe even the same? I started exploring the idea of what makes up these educational disciplines as a result of hearing the term STEM more and more in the news. STEM is a short-handed way of referring to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but is this term simply a collection of separate items, or could there be something larger at play here because of the overlaps between these disciplines? Is there greater benefit to the whole than simply its parts and could this concept be applied to other similar examples outside of education as well?

While noodling with the idea of categories and boundaries, I remembered a discussion I had with Vinton Cerf from Google many months ago. Vint is frequently cited as “the father of the Internet” a title he will quickly point out involves the contributions of many of his fellow colleagues, and not just those of his own.

During our meeting we talked about how Google looks at the world of content. Vint shared with me the following:

“In the academic world it has become traditional to speak of disciplines, and that’s an organizational artifact; geology, history, English, physics, chemistry, medicine, and so on. Yet when we dive down deep we discover this is all a continuum. These things are not really broken up with such hard walls and barriers between them. Understanding that those disciplines are actually related to each other in a very intimate way is an important thing. I want to be careful about the idea of organizing information into categories. That can be helpful abstraction but it’s dangerous if you actually believe these things are segregated from each other.”

Upon reflecting on Vint’s words, I immediately thought of a quote by the great media thinker Marshall McLuhan, who famously said:

“Anyone who makes a distinction between entertainment and education doesn’t know the first thing about either.”

Connecting the dots between the two statements came over me like a tidal wave. Could we as media creators, educators, researchers, whatever the industry, be carrying with us artificial boundaries that prevent us from making real breakthroughs in our field? If we look for new ways to engage audiences through media creation wouldn’t it be in defining new boundaries that reshapes society’s thinking about these boundaries?

Simply being aware that we have the ability to redefine those boundaries may actually be the first step in creating something larger, something that is truly breakthrough. How would you define the boundaries between education and entertainment? Or should we instead define the overlaps, or maybe even define how we wish those boundaries to be drawn? The overlaps appear to change and grow with every advance in technology. Their sum is greater than the parts. To separate the two diminishes our ability as creators to discover new opportunities and reach audiences in ways never before dreamed possible.

Kids, Cartoons, and Sugary Cereal Ads

Monday, September 6th, 2010

While the sun is shining outside,  a child is eating vibrant colored cereal while watching a cartoon on TV.

Breakfast cereal is really not my thing. Sure I eat it, but when I’m reviewing commercials on TV for work, I’m usually looking for toys and techno playthings, not cereal. Recently however, while reviewing virtual world commercials as part of a new client request, I just couldn’t ignore the dozens of breakfast cereals being advertised to kids. After noticing how many there are I decided to start a little side project. I would watch one children’s television station on any given Saturday morning and see what shows up. To begin my experiment I watched a five-hour Saturday morning block on Nickelodeon. Here are a few of the cereal ads I saw:

  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch
  • Cocoa Puffs
  • Cookie Crisp
  • Cupcake Fruity Pebbles
  • Frosted Flakes
  • Honey Nut Cheerios
  • Lucky Charms
  • Rheese’s Puffs
  • Trix Swirls

These commercials are in such heavy rotation you could see most of them within about an hour, along with numerous yogurt, candy and restaurant ads targeting kids. (Just a note, Nickelodeon is not the only children’s channel to air these commercials. These same ads could be seen on Cartoon Network and Disney XD.)

The technicolor explosion of sugary cereal ads blew my mind. Wasn’t there some standard, at least a code of ethics in place, that prevented marketing these cereals to children during their morning cartoons? After doing a little research I learned in late 2007 the breakfast cereal industry announced they would self-regulate which products would and would not be advertised to children. They defined a number of industry guidelines; one in particular stated that this coalition of companies would not advertise cereals that contained more than 12 grams of sugar per serving to children. How much sugar did the cereals above contain? A quick trip to the supermarket revealed almost all skated just below the self-imposed rule of 12 grams per serving. But what was the standard serving size as part of this guideline? Almost all of these cereals recommended a serving size of 3/4 of a cup. Was that a lot? How much cereal does the average person eat for breakfast?

The next morning I went to the kitchen, poured myself a bowl of everyday, non-sugary cereal and measured it. I found I eat about 1 1/2 cups of cereal for breakfast. I then asked a number of kids, ages 11 – 14, to pour themselves a bowl of cereal, after which I measured each one. Their bowls ranged from 1 to 1 1/4 cups, 33 – 66% more than the recommended serving size.

This chart looks at a number of cereals advertised on television and compares the amount of sugar in the recommended serving size as well as other, larger serving sizes

The conspiracy theorist in me wondered if these cereal companies simply reduced the size of a single serving to guarantee they could get the sugar levels below 12 grams per serving. In an attempt to prove my theory, all I would need to do is find the Nutritional Facts for each cereal before the self-imposed 2007 regulations. Did you know that eBay and Flickr are both excellent resources for finding photographs of nostalgic cereal boxes? I couldn’t find all of the cereals listed above, but I did find a 1979 box of Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms. That year both cereals had a recommended serving size of one cup. Today, the recommended serving size is 3/4 of a cup.

This retro cereal box sleuthing proved nothing though. These cereal companies may have changed their ingredients over the years, maybe even realized that one cup of cereal was actually too much to eat in a single sitting. I started to wonder if all this sugar-talk was a moot point. Just how much sugar is actually okay to eat in one day?

In 2003, the World Health Organization stated that a person’s daily caloric intake should not exceed more than 10% from sugar. If a typical adult calorie count per day is 2,200 calories, the 10% ceiling translates into about 12 teaspoons or about 50 grams of sugar per day. After this announcement the US Sugar lobby had a fit with the WHO’s sugar guidelines and countered that the daily caloric intake of sugar could be as much as 25% per day. That’s about 30 teaspoons or 120 grams of sugar per day. Last year the American Heart Association recommended no more than 6 1/2 teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar per day for adult women, and no more than 9 1/2 teaspoons or 37 grams of sugar per day for adult men, recommendations below the WHO’s position. According to that math, if you have just one cup of any sugary cereal in the morning, and you wash it down with a cup of milk or orange juice, you’ve just about reached the upper limit of sugar intake for the day in a single meal. That means no more juices, cookies, sweets or deserts for the rest of the day.

If this country truly wants to reverse the growing childhood obesity problem, relying on self-imposed industry regulations for food advertising clearly won’t lead kids (or adults) to healthier eating choices. Like I said, cereal is not my thing, but I just can’t ignore what I see on children’s television every day. The food ads kids consume on a regular basis are far from sweet, and when you begin to pull back the curtain on this sugary controversy, you too may find you’re left with a very sour taste in your mouth.

Calling Mr. Herman – The Return of Pee-wee Herman

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Pee-wee's Playhouse cast, starring Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman

Since the show went off the air in November of 1990, Pee-wee’s Playhouse has been frozen in time, largely enjoyed by an audience of older fans and their children who purchased DVD and VHS collections made available over the years. Yesterday, after almost two decades, Pee-wee’s Playhouse returned to the stage of Club Nokia in Los Angeles. The night started with a standing ovation for Paul Reubens, the visionary behind the lovable Pee-wee character, before the show officially started to a packed hall of almost 1,200 fans.

Once a couple of comedic formalities were taken care of, the stage curtains parted, and everyone in the room was instantly teleported back in time. The show’s set was unveiled in all of its technicolor glory, and after a friendly hello center stage by the lovable Chairy, the large talking light blue chair, you felt you were back in your parents living room eating a bowl of cereal while watching the original airing of Playhouse back in the 1980s.

Original cast members from the show made their appearance alongside Pee-wee. Miss Yvonne, the show’s favorite debutante, and Jambie, the helpful Genie who allows you just one wish a day, felt like you were having a get-together with old friends. New to the cast were others who played the roles of Cowboy Curtis and the King of Cartoons. New characters to the show were introduced in this episode which included Mailman Mike (sorry, no Reba the Mail Lady), Firefighter, Sergio, and a large, mostly silent Bear character.

All of your favorite puppetland characters were in attendance as well. Conky, the stuttering/dancing robot kicked things off with the secret word of the day (and everyone in the audience screamed real loud.) Pterri, the talking pterodactyl was also along side Globey, Clocky, Randy, the singing flower bed, Magic Screen, and a number of other inanimate objects familiar to the show.

The roughly 90 minute performance meticulously captured all of the qualities of the show, punctuated with the same sound effects used throughout the original program. Their was also a nostalgic cartoon, two infomercials, and even a 1950s public service announcement. One main storyline included the unfolding love story between Miss Yvone and Cowboy Curtis which felt as though it picked up right where the final on-air episodes of Pee-wee’s Playhouse left off. Alongside this story included Pee-wee’s wish to some day fly just like Pterri.

Paul Rubens’ performance was wonderful, and his costume and appearance looked as if it had been carefully tucked away in the family toy box, only to be brought out again in a compete pristine appearance, never having aged a day. Sound levels were not quite balanced and timing of some sound effects were off, but this could easily be overlooked for an opening night. Fans of the show may also wonder where the familiar music for the show, created by Devo front man Mark Mothersbaugh, might be hiding. The lighting and stage sets were all fantastic and worth the price of the ticket alone. While I was originally concerned about the venue switch from the Music Box to Club Nokia, the new performance hall was stunning and an excellent fit.

The humor, visuals, and music that made the original Playhouse television show live on now has the opportunity to be enjoyed by a whole new audience, and hopefully influence a whole new crowd of children’s television developers. What was great about the show back in the day was that it was a creative oasis in the middle of a large children’s television void. This children’s television emptiness still lives today, and networks should revisit the creative genius of this show that is as fresh today as it was when it launched. And stay tuned for more from Pee-wee. It’s rumored a new Pee-wee movie, and possibly two, are in the works.

There are 29 live shows left to be enjoyed between now and February 7, 2009. If I could have one wish from Jambie, I might ask for a few matinees for 18 and under shows. Except for a handful of jokes about an abstinence ring, reference to states that are accepting of gay marriage, and a small hint of toilet humor, the comedy on the whole was pretty harmless and could easily be adapted for younger audiences.