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School For Rent: Channel One MAG
It seems that for every new idea, there exists someone who has an argument against it. This is exactly the case with Channel One, a 10 minute news program broadcast in high schools across the country. The main controversy lies in the two minutes of commercials which are broadcast during the program.
Channel One is the brainchild of Whittle Communications and its 41 year old founder Christopher Whittle. Whittle Communications, which has recently merged with Time Inc., is known for its narrow target market approach to advertising.
With Channel One, Whittle hopes to have what would be the largest daily teenage viewing audience (6.5 million students), falling short only of the Super Bowl. This massive teenage audience is important to advertisers, such as Levi's and Coca-Cola, due to the enormous discretionary income of teenagers. According to market researchers and to editors of teenage magazines, teenagers, while dwindling in numbers, are spending more than ever.
The 5 million dollar experimental news/information program resembles a network news program, but with 18- to 24- year-old anchors. It begins with an international news summary followed by slick, colorful segments, fast facts, and pop quizzes. The program will contain news important to teen-agers, such as the Space Shuttle and the teenage homeless. Four 30-second commercials are included in the program, with advertisers such as McDonald's, Vidal Sassoon, Coca-Cola, and Levi's.
For the privilege of broadcasting their new program and commercials for 12 minutes a day, Whittle provides the schools with $50,000 worth of audio/video equipment. The schools are free to use this equipment as they wish for the remainder of the day. This will help to provide the 9 out of 10 schools which do not have any electronic equipment at all, with valuable equipment.
Chris Whittle feels that Channel One will aide in the education of America's "culturally illiterate" children. He talks earnestly and prophetically about teenagers who think the Holocaust is a Jewish holiday and who believe Geraldine Ferraro is a talk-show host. He goes on to say Channel One could educate the many teenagers who believe that Jesse Jackson is a Major League outfielder, that Chernobyl is Cher's real name, and the Ayatollah is a Russian gymnast.
The main controversy centers around the four commercials contained in Channel One. Many people feel that the commercials prey on the captivated minds of the teenagers. Peggy Charren, head of Action for Children's Television, feels that this is a "Great Big Gorgeous Trojan Horse." She believes if the schools go for this trade-off "they might as well auction off the school day to the highest bidder." Many agree with Charren and are convinced that this will lead to bigger things such as the branching out into advertising in textbooks and notebooks.
Although I can see the feasability of these oppositions, I feel that Channel One would be highly beneficial for students. The positive effects of the program would far outweigh the threat of the commercials influencing teenagers in a negative way. I feel that teenage students, in general, have at least some idea of their needs and want and would not be hypnotically influenced to buy a pair of jeans or hair product just because they saw four more commercials out of the hundreds that they view each day.
The argument against the proposition of Channel One leading to advertisements in textbooks is the same. The advertisements would have no effect on the students at all, but rather they would provide the necessary funds needed by our under-financed schools. The extra money would allow the purchasing of more textbooks and possibly the creation of more enrichment programs and higher teacher salaries.
In the end I believe that Channel One should be aired in as many high schools as possible across America, and maybe even expanded to other countries. I feel that the commercials will not have negative effects. Students might actually learn something new about their country or just about the world around them, that is, if they are awake. n