Thursday, February 15, 2007

Just For Me: An Exploration of Nickelodeon, TV’s First Network for Kids part II

In the mid 1960s, it was discovered that satellite distribution allowed cable services, originally designed to improve reception in geographically difficult areas, the ability to host channels beyond the normal broadcast stations. By the late 1970s, cable offered super stations, pay-TV and other specialty programming. With these new services, industry revenue grew annually by about 15 percent (Pecora 18).

At the time, the three major broadcast networks – ABC, NBC, CBS – dominated the ratings for the two- to eleven-year-old demographic. Early children’s programming had been relegated to the Saturday morning timeslot, where shows like Howdy Doody were often used as springboards for marketing products. In fact, most networks hadn’t paid attention to kids programming much until the mid-1960s, when CBS introduced Saturday morning cartoons, which only acted as cheap substitutes for live action programming. Realizing the potential for profit in the specialization of children’s programming, Warner Cable Company launched the Pinwheel Network (later changing it to Nickelodeon in 1981) on April 1, 1979 with “hearty, wholesome programming that will delight PTA’s, community groups, and just plain anxious parents… as well as the kids” (Pecora 16).

The network worked to champion the idea of cable television to wary adults. Whereas children’s programming was restricted to certain times before, children and parents could now turn on Nick at anytime of day and know they would find something to watch. By reinforcing a ‘kids only’ image, Nickelodeon could lure suspicious parents into purchasing cable TV through their children. In turn, the growth of Nickelodeon as a network is inextricably linked with the growth of home cable access (Pecora 21).

When Nickelodeon went on the air with programming exclusively for children for the first time in 1979, there was nothing else like it. The network relied entirely on subscription fees, and aired mostly low budget programs, such as game or talk shows that were either produced by (Kid’s Writes) or featured kids (Mr. Wizard, Livewire). While this early programming worked to entertain kids in a pro-social, non-stereotypical way, it also earned the channel the reputation for being the “green vegetable network” (Pecora 23). In other words, the shows were good by adult standards, but not exactly what kids wanted to watch. In order to create new programming and maintain costs, the channel introduced advertising in 1983. That year, Nickelodeon turned a profit for the first time in its history, allowing for the development of original programming (Pecora 23).

Part III coming soon!...

Check out part I!

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