Now it's all-kids, all-day (really)


For some families, this is the biggest news to arrive lately: Suddenly, PBS' kid shows -- good ones, mostly -- will be available any time. That's true over-the-air in much of the country and via streaming anywhere. Here's the stories I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA -- We all
know the feeling: It's 11 p.m., time to unwind; you pour some wine
and catch the “BooBoo Busters” episode of “Sesame Street.”

Or it's pre-dawn and
you'e a tad hung over. It's time for “Odd Squad” or “Splash and
Bubble” or ...

Well, maybe not, but
at least it's possible. The new “PBS Kids 24/7” channel has just
debuted on 108 stations, including many with the biggest viewership.

“We reach 74
percent of the country,” said Lesli Rotenberg, PBS' general manager
of children's media. “By the end of the year, it will be 90
percent.”

Or it's already 100
percent, if you count the other choice: Anyone can get the channel
now, via computer (www.pbskids.org)
or app.

But is it a good
thing for kids be able to watch constantly? “We don't want children
watching TV all day,” Rosenberg said. “We want them playing; we
want them outside.”

Lives vary, though.
“Believe it or not, there are many children up at night,” said
Paula Kerger, PBS' president.

Some have adjusted
to their parents' work shifts; others, Kerger said, face unusual
situations,. “Many are in hospitals .... We actually heard from
caregivers who said, “We are at a loss sometime, to figure out how
we can keep chidren calm and entertained.'”

And even normal life
doesn't match tradtional schedules. A typical PBS station runs kids'
shows from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., then switches to grown-ups; studies
contradict that approach, Rotenberg said. “We found that kids'
viewing is the highest from 6-10 p.m.”

Kids also view
heavily on weekends, when PBS stations tend to be switch to how-to
shows.

There's an advantage
to those times, Rotenberg said. “It allows the opportunity for
shared viewing.”

During the day,
adults may be overbusy, even at home; at night, they can snuggle
alongside the kids. In April, the channel will launch “family
viewing night,” with a movie-length version of one of its series at
7 p.m. Fridays, repeating it on Saturdays and Sundays.

The possibility was
set up in 2009, when TV went digital. The conversion was expensive,
but left a bonus: Digital needs only one-fourth the band space; each
station had room for three more channels.

Commercial stations
often rent that space to small networks – old TV shows, old movies,
home-shopping and more. PBS stations set up channels for the arts or
international shows or more. “A few of our stations had created
their own children's channels,” Kerger said.

Now there's a
national one. It has a few brief spots for local announcements,
Rotenberg said; also, a few stations have their own shows that will
be wedged in.

Buy why bother, in a
world that already has Nickelodeon, Netflix, the Disney channels, the
Cartoon Network, Sprout and Discovery Family? Rotenberg points to:

-- Reaching
low-income families. None of this requires cable or satellite; any
set with a digital antenna can get a local station's extra channels.

-- The quality of
PBS' commercial-free line-up. “It's created to meet needs ....
Everything is tested.”

Families have
noticed, Kerger said. “According to a recent survey, parents rank
PBS Kids No. 1 in preparing their children for school, No. 1 in
developing the skills kids need to succeed and No. 1 in modeling
positive behavior.”

The American Academy
of Pediatrics has recommended zero screen time before age 2,
Rotenberg said. Most people quit watching PBS Kids somewhere between
ages 8 and 10 ... possibly a tad longer if they have younger
siblings.

But for that sweet
spot between ages 2 and 8 or so, there's now that 24/7 viewing.

-- PBS Kids, on many
stations' digital channel and at www.pbskids.org

-- “Family Viewing
Night” starts April 21-23, with “Odd Squad: The Movie”