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24/7 children's channels? I want my kid TV!


Michael Stetz

San Diego Union-Tribune

August 4, 2008

Now, this was weird. On TV, filling the screen, was Barney.

Barney, the big purple dinosaur, singing that song, “I love you, you love me .”

It was weird, because it happened to be 1 o'clock in the morning.

Who out there in TV Land could possibly be tuning in? Some toddler with insomnia? Hard to believe, given all the warm milk they put down.

And just what pressures, worries and life struggles would keep a little tyke up at night anyway?

They have no mortgages, no mean bosses, no exes, no lame 401(k) portfolios, no premature-balding issues. The price of gas isn't a problem when you drive a tricycle.

The station that continuously runs Barney and other kiddie shows is called PBS KIDS Sprout. There's also a 24/7 channel for babies called BabyFirstTV, with such shows as “Shushybye Baby” and “Ready, Dress, Go!” Noggin is another station, like Sprout, aimed solely at preschoolers.

You've got to wonder which audience these channels are targeting in the middle of the night. Those trying to connect with their inner child?

It's 1 a.m., people.

Sure, it makes sense for news channels to run 24/7. One of the presidential candidates might actually say something. Same with sports. Who doesn't want to catch “Kiana's Flex Appeal” at 4 a.m. on ESPN Classic?

But a children's channel?

According to Sprout's Web site, the station “is the only 24-hour channel devoted to kids ages 2-5 and their parents and caregivers.” It's available locally as a Cox Digital Cable channel and on Time Warner's On Demand lineup.

As a parent of a 3-year-old, I say thanks. Thanks a lot. Just what I need – a station my kid can rely on 24/7. We're going to be wrestling for the remote come football Sundays.

Me: “I want Chargers!”

My kid: “I want 'Dragon Tales'!”

Who's going to pay for advertising on a kiddie show that runs only when 7-Eleven clerks are up?

I called Sprout, and a 4-year-old answered the phone.

No, an adult actually works there, and she said the 24/7 programming is a “great resource” for parents.

A child could be sick or having a nightmare, and Sprout, which started in 2005 and is now in 40 million homes, is available for him or her, spokeswoman Jenni Glenn said.

Of course, the channel doesn't advocate children watching television 24 hours a day, Glenn said. Some stations that cater to children change programming to broadcast shows for older ones, such as preteens, early in the evening, leaving preschoolers without much viewing choice.

Not everybody buys the Sprout spin.

Susan Linn, for one. She is co-founder and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and she is no fan of Sprout or BabyFirstTV.

If your child is having a nightmare, try to soothe him, Linn said. Don't plunk him in front of a TV.

There's no evidence that TV helps put children to sleep, she said. One study said it might even cause a problem with sleep habits.

So is there any reason a preschooler should be watching TV at 2 a.m.? Linn says no, not even if a really good, quality show like “American Gladiators” or “America's Next Top Model” happens to be on.





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