WASHINGTON – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has announced the end of its Channel One News broadcasts in school classrooms, and child advocates are bidding them a less-than-fond farewell. For 28 years, Channel One compelled students to watch a 12-minute newscast that includes two minutes of commercials. Each year, schools with Channel One lost the equivalent of a full week of school to the broadcasts, and a full day of instructional time to the commercials alone.
“This is a landmark day for children, and a testament to the tireless advocacy of those who believe classrooms should be free of corporate marketing,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Parents and educators have become increasingly wary of corporations targeting a captive audience of schoolchildren, and Channel One has been losing subscribers in droves with each passing year. We’re glad Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has finally pulled the plug on what was a terrible idea from the start.” CCFC has previously organized parents to keep Channel One out of school districts and urged advertisers to avoid the controversial network.
Launched in 1989 by marketing executive Chris Whittle, Channel One lured schools with the promise of free classroom televisions. But the cost of this “free” equipment was high. Schools with Channel One were required to show the broadcast, including two minutes of student-targeted commercials, on 90% of school days. Former Channel One President Joel Babbit once boasted, “The advertiser gets kids who cannot go to the bathroom, cannot change the station, who cannot listen to their mother yell in the background, who cannot be playing Nintendo.”
Channel One’s business model was controversial from the start. Advocates from across the political spectrum, from Ralph Nader to Phyllis Schlafly, decried Channel One’s exploitation of a captive student audience. Research showed that the “news” on Channel One was often fluff pieces about pop culture, that Channel One cost American taxpayers nearly $2 billion per year, and that kids in low-income school districts were more likely to be forced to watch the commercialized broadcasts.
Jim Metrock, president of the watchdog organization Obligation, Inc., said “During a childhood obesity crisis, Channel One News advertised Twinkies, Snickers, and Pepsi to schoolchildren. They shamelessly advertised movies that glamorized drug and alcohol use. Ad revenue became more important than the welfare of students. It was telling that every Channel One president was an advertising or marketing executive, never an educator or journalist. Few will mourn the loss of this kiddie-marketing firm.” Obligation, Inc. was instrumental in raising awareness of the impacts of Channel One News on kids, and how it was operated in secrecy despite being shown in taxpayer-funded schools. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which purchased Channel One in 2014, refused to disclose the schools Channel One News operated in and refused requests to identify the companies purchasing ad time on the network.
Alex Molnar, Co-Director of the Commercialism in Education Research Unit at the National Education Policy Center, said, “Good riddance! Channel One was always about corporate money, not education. From the start, it was a failure for students, teachers, and the public. Now it’s failed as a corporate profit center. RIP.”
Faith Boninger, also Co-Director at the Commercialism in Education Research Unit at the National Education Policy Center, said, “Children won’t miss Channel One in their schools. For too many years they were taken advantage of as a captive audience, forced to watch what Channel One was selling. This is an important step in the right direction.”