• Networks Losing Child Viewers Have Only Themselves to Blame

    by  • April 27, 2018 • Broadcast Decency, Cable Choice, Family Friendly, Streaming • 9 Comments


    The TV wasteland has never been more vast for children.


    A recent article from Bloomberg discusses the disastrous situation confronting cable and broadcast networks when it comes to child viewers ages 2-11. The article notes that “the amount of time that the youngest watchers spent viewing conventional TV fell 30 percent between 2010 and 2017.” What the article fails to note is that the reason for the decline in young viewership can be laid at the feet of the networks themselves – for utterly failing to create programming appropriate for and appealing to children.

    It wasn’t always so. Once, nearly everything on prime-time TV was suitable for, or at least not harmful to, children. Westerns, situation comedies, police and medical dramas, even spy shows didn’t cross the line into inappropriate content; and, as a result, generations of kids watched, and learned that TV was a great place to be. The networks were even able to air some “edgy” programs which pushed their preferred social agendas in shows like All in the Family and M*A*S*H…yet managed to do so without being offensive.

    Some networks weren’t even ashamed of programming prime time specifically for children. The Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk…These shows weren’t buried on some niche science-fiction or superhero network or program app. They were broadcast network programs, aired in prime time, where everyone could receive and see them. As a result, they were shared and loved by millions of viewers – especially kids. And also as a result, those kids grew up accustomed to watching traditional TV, because the lesson they had learned as kids was that TV provided programming that interested them, shows worth watching.

    But as TV – first cable, and now broadcast – became enamored of emulating as far as possible the graphic sex and nudity, extreme violence, explicit profanity, and dark, disturbing themes of HBO and Showtime programs, they steadily pushed children out of prime time – and eventually, out of mainstream television – entirely. This is a mistake that streaming services like Netflix have not made. Even as it has created shows with clear appeal to adults and older teens, Netflix has also invested in new, creative, interesting, and age-appropriate programming for kids.

    The Bloomberg article documents how each of the major players are now trying to catch up to Netflix, by pushing out their own streaming services. But focusing on the technology involved, rather than on creating  programming compelling to children (which is exactly what Netflix IS doing), is a classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees. Yes, by all means, invest in streaming technology if you think it will help; but ALSO create more programming that is age-appropriate and that kids care about, and put it on everywhere…broadcast, cable, and streaming.

    Reviving a Saturday morning cartoon block might be a good place to start. For more than 50 years, Saturday mornings were the exclusive domain of child viewers. Over time, the networks chose to eliminate Saturday morning kids’ programming. (The CW was the last holdout, cancelling its Saturday morning cartoon block in 2014.) The networks cited declining ratings in their decisions to get rid of Saturday morning kids’ programming…but in eliminating a dedicated block of programming for kids, they essentially told children, “There’s nothing for you here.”

    Saturday morning TV today is a wasteland of infomercials and cheap, nearly identical E/I programming devoted to animals. Yes, E/I programming for children is important, and the networks should air it; but why can’t it be creative and fun? Don’t our kids deserve even the effort to create such programming? According to the big entertainment conglomerates, apparently not. But the money wasted on a single failed broadcast pilot could go to fund genuinely creative (and maybe even educational) shows for kids. Failing that, the networks could at least show classic children’s programming, instead of the dead air populating Saturday mornings now.

    When it began, Cartoon Network showed a plethora of past animation, everything from Warner Brothers’ classic Looney Tunes shorts to Hanna-Barbera’s Scooby-Doo.  But today, as the article notes, Looney Tunes are consigned to Cartoon’s sibling channel Boomerang…which is only available on a higher (read: more expensive) tier on most cable systems, or through yet another online subscription. According to the article, Disney at least is going to create new programming capitalizing on its Star Wars and Marvel superhero franchises…but why bring those shows only to streaming? Why not put them on Disney Channel or Disney XD, too? Or even on ABC Saturday mornings?

    For decades now, child viewers have increasingly been herded into an ever-shrinking cable ghetto. For the last two decades, a tiny handful of networks were the only choices available to kids…and now, even they are facing serious problems. “Viewership of the three most-popular networks for the very young — Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and the Cartoon Network — is down more than 20 percent this season,” says the Bloomberg article.

    Well, no wonder. Over time, even the three “child-friendly” networks began pushing kids away with more and more content intended for adults. The Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network originally was strictly confined to late-night; today, it starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern/7 Central – the very heart of prime time, when millions of kids are in the audience. Nickelodeon’s co-branded network Nick Jr., intended for younger children, was effectively destroyed by the decision to program prime-time with the unbelievably raunchy NickMom block – which resulted in a complete debacle for Nick Jr. and its owner Viacom. Disney, at least, created the Disney XD network to appeal to a action-craving boy audience, as Disney Channel appeals to budding princesses; but Disney’s simultaneous decision to push graphic sexual content onto the former ABC Family network (now renamed Freeform), and even on the Disney Channel itself, has likely pushed away as many or more kids than it attracts.

    First broadcast, then most of cable, and now even cable TV networks supposedly intended for children, have spent years essentially pushing children online, by refusing to program for them…and now, the networks are suffering the consequences. Even children are smart enough not to go where they’re not wanted, and to go somewhere they are.

    The bottom line is this: the major networks – broadcast and cable – don’t care about kids, and haven’t for a long time. But in their decision to cut lower-performing kid-friendly fare for short-term gain, they’ve cut their own throats over the long term.

    Children today largely don’t watch traditional TV because there’s nothing there for them to watch — and there hasn’t been for decades. They therefore have no habit of, no affection for, and no loyalty to, traditional TV. And why should they, when the networks haven’t programmed anything they want to, or even can, watch?

    The Bloomberg article opens with the words, “Kids are killing cable TV.” But when it comes to attracting and retaining kid viewers, cable and broadcast TV have long since committed suicide.



    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    9 Responses to Networks Losing Child Viewers Have Only Themselves to Blame

    1. Benji
      September 29, 2018 at 9:14 am

      They destroyed a good thing when the government destroyed Saturday Morning for kids. Are the kids any smarter? They should have been run out of Washington. Destroying a good thing that was an American Tradition for many years. That big bowl of cereal on Saturday Mornings with my favorite cartoons. Kid’s could escape from the everyday pressures if having to go to school. I demand they tear down this stupid, ridiculous “Children’s Television Act”.

    2. Ryan
      May 16, 2018 at 1:12 pm


      Some small Fox affliates sometimes replaces infomercials with these non-E/I progams on sundays

      Power Rangers (most that air are the pre 2009 seasons, the sole Exception is the Dino Charge which came out in 2015.)
      Masked Riders
      VR Troopers
      Big Bad Beetleborgs

      Sooner or later, some parent would be aware of these and lobby tv station to show cartoons on saturday mornings.
      We seriously need saturday mornings back.

      • moax429
        May 16, 2018 at 2:35 pm

        Amen to that!

    3. Shinji
      April 29, 2018 at 8:59 pm

      Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney Channel all still produce kid-friendly content. The problem is just that a lot of it isn’t good, and Netflix/Hulu offer a lot better, including originals and old favorites available any time you want them.

      • Ryan
        May 16, 2018 at 1:26 pm

        Alot of children are now resorting to Litton or those 4 shows I mentioned to find new programs instead of spongebob and Teen Titans Go. Cable Is not a place for children. Broadcast tv is.


    4. moax429
      April 29, 2018 at 4:46 pm

      I *miss* the good, old Saturday mornings I grew up with during the 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s.

      I think it’s a *crying* shame today’s kids can’t have the same luxuries like that we grew up with. I’m getting *sick* of all the news and infomercials the networks and local stations cram down our throats at that time (now I just sleep in on Saturday mornings).

      If the networks weren’t obsessed with their “bottom line,” then perhaps today’s kids could have the same weekend escapism we had when we were their age.

      There are two parties you can thank for that (sarcastically speaking):
      1. NBC, who made the brainless decision in 1991 to remove all animated shows from their Saturday morning lineup and replace them with “Today” and such live-action shows as “Saved By the Bell;” and
      2. (The late) Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children’s Television (ACT) who was instrumental in pressuring Congress to sign the Children’s Television Act of 1990, accounting for the lame kids’ shows now on the networks’ Saturday morning schedules. No more weekend escapism – just boring live-action shows even the young set isn’t interested in.

      (Now *don’t* get me wrong – what Mrs. Charren did helped to remove violence and hidden advertising from kids’ shows, which is good. The *negative* aspect of the Children’s Television Act was that just about every surviving kids’ shows on the networks became *pedantic* and *boring,* like those “Our Gang” shorts with Robert Blake and Froggy Laughlin produced from 1939 until the series’ ending in 1944. A good example of that was “Saved By the Bell;” it started out being funny, escapist, and identifiable, but by 1993 until the series’ ending it became pedantic and somewhat soporific. In other words: Long on lessons, fairly short on good, clean escapist comedy.)

      • Ryan
        May 16, 2018 at 1:18 pm

        Sometime on some fox affliates, they do on sunday morning replaced infomercials (but not Litton E/I programs) with these shows

        Power Rangers (most that air are the pre 2009 seasons, the sole Exception is the Dino Charge which came out in 2015.)
        Masked Riders / Dragon Knight
        VR Troopers
        Big Bad Beetleborgs
        Sadly, except for Power Rangers Dino Charge most of them made in the 1990s.

        Sooner or later, some parent would be aware of these and lobby tv station to show cartoons on saturday mornings. We serously need more cartoons on the air, These 4 shows I mentioned were a good start.
        We seriously need saturday mornings back.

      • Georgi Malchov
        July 17, 2018 at 1:09 am

        In my opinion, the real organization to blame for the demise of Saturday mornings is Litton Entertainment.

        Seriously, these guys are on a quest to make every channel show E/I programming every Saturday morning. Here’s a(for now) short list of their programming blocks, in order of premiere date:
        -Litton’s Weekend Adventure(ABC stations)[September 3, 2011]
        -CBS Dream Team(CBS stations)[September 28, 2013]
        -One Magnificent Morning(CW stations)[October 4, 2014]
        -The More You Know(NBC stations/Cozi TV)[October 8, 2016]
        -Go Time(various stations, mainly independent, CW or MyNetworkTV)[Fall 2016]
        -Antenna TV block(Antenna TV)[September 2, 2017]
        -MiTelemundo(Telemundo)[January 6, 2018]

        Yep, Litton has 7 E/I blocks on Saturday mornings as of 2018. Even classic TV stations(Cozi TV, Antenna TV) are not safe, and the disease is now spreading to Spanish-language channels(Telemundo).

        If Litton continues to pollute Saturday mornings with the same old E/I programming, then goodness knows who is going to be the company’s next victim. Just imagine if FOX stations had a Litton block every Saturday morning…

    5. QWA
      April 27, 2018 at 9:02 pm

      If less children are watching TV because the networks and streaming services are not making content children will enjoy, fine with me. There are much better ways for small children to spend their time. The longer children wait to see their first television program, the better off they’ll be.

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