CHANNEL ONE

U.S. Proprietary Programming Service

Channel One is a twelve-minute television news program targeted to teenagers and distributed via satellite to over 12,000 middle and high schools across the United States each school day morning. This represents an audience of over eight million students, with thousands of other schools currently on a waiting list to receive the program. Channel One became, almost from its inception, a highly controversial educational program offering, primarily because two minutes of each program are devoted to advertising.

Channel One began its pilot phase in January 1989 originally as a production of Whittle Communications, Inc. in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was heavily promoted by the company's founder, Christopher Whittle. In 1995, Whittle Communications, Inc. closed, and sold Channel One to K-III Communications Corporation, a large diversified communications company focused on education, information and magazine publishing. Among its titles are Weekly Reader, Funk and Wagnell's New Encyclopedia, and Seventeen magazine.

In order for a school to receive Channel One, it must sign a three-year agreement to carry the program in its entirety each school day, and make the telecast available to at least 90 percent of the student body. In return, each school receives a satellite dish (TVRO), two videocassette recorders, one 19-inch television set per classroom and all of the necessary cabling. No money is exchanged.

Channel One news content is geared to teenagers, and delivered by anchors and reporters typically in their early to mid-20s. Program content includes the latest news as well as week-long series for more depth on such topics as jobs, drug abuse, science and technology and international politics. According to Channel One, its news programming has "five educational goals:

1. To enhance cultural literacy
2. To promote critical thinking
3. To provide a common language and shared experience
4. To provide relevance and motivation 5. To strengthen character and build a sense of responsibility"

Channel One has received many awards including the Advertising Council's Silver Bell Award for "outstanding public service and a George Foster Peabody Award for the series "A Decade of AIDs."

In addition to the daily Channel One news program, schools are also provided with approximately 250 hours per school year of noncommercial educational programming (through an agreement with Pacific Mountain Network) that is designed to serve as a supplemental teaching tool to support existing curricula.

 


Photo courtesy of Channel One

Many in the educational community and elsewhere have decried Channel One on the basis that it commercializes the classroom environment, and some have expressed concern that there may be an implicit endorsement of the products shown. Channel One characterizes its role as a positive partnership between the educational and business communities. They cite, for example, a three-year study of Channel One by a team, commissioned by Whittle, from the University of Michigan. Among the study's findings were apparent increases in awareness and knowledge of current events by the audience, and the judgment by a majority of teachers surveyed that they would recommend the program to other teachers. Other studies have found that Channel One's stated commitment to community service is evidenced by a high percentage (about 15%) of the commercial time being given to public service announcements. And in a 1993 report published in Educational Leadership, 90% of teachers thought Channel One included the "most important events of the previous day." Others teachers, critics, and evaluators, however, still find the idea of students viewing advertising in the classroom anathema. The debate continues.

-Thomas A. Birk

FURTHER READING

Greenberg, B. S and J.E. Brand. "Television News and Advertising in Schools: The Channel One Controversy." Journal of Communication (New York), 1993.

Thomas, L. R. "Whittle Pleased by its Study of Channel One." The Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee), 4 February 1994.

Tiene, D. "Channel One: Good or Bad News for Our Schools?" Educational Leadership (Alexandria, Virginia) May 1993.

________. "Exploring the Effectiveness of the Channel One School Telecasts." Educational Technology (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), May 1993.

Wulfemeyer, K. T. and B. Mueller. "Channel One and Commercials in Classrooms: Advertising Content Aimed at Students." Journalism Quarterly (Urbana, Illinois), 1992.