Not so long ago, someone from Primedia, inc. ("a targeted media company with print, video and Internet businesses focused on consumer and business-to-business audiences."*) had the brilliant idea that there was a way to cram advertisements down a target audience with growing buying power's (i.e. teenagers) collective throat and seem humanitarian by doing so. In 1990, the Channel One Network debuted.

The Channel One Network largely (and almost solely) consists of Channel One News; which is about three minutes of commercials from such corporate giants as PepsiCo and Nike and ten minutes of news-like programming delivered by college-aged men who seem to be desperately trying to be "hip" and edgy and nubile young college girls (Channnel One alumnae include MTV News' Serena Altschul and The View's Lisa Ling).

In 1991, when I was a sophomore, my High School received Channel One programming for the first time. Moderately-sized black television sets were mounted on ungainly black, metal things placed high up on the classroom walls. These televisions were wired to a central box where Channel One broadcasting would be beamed each night, and were, I believe unusable for anything else but Channel One. Each day at a set time the televisions would come on as if by magic and the 13 minutes of torture would begin.

Other schools allowed their children to do something else if they did not wish to be subjected to the horrors of Channel one, but not mine. The mean old nun I had in first period strolled the aisles of the classroom making sure we were watching and not doing something frivolous, like reading. The newscasts were insipid and condescending and invariably slanted to some sort of Big Business is good viewpoint. The show was broadcast from the Channel One Hacienda, a set apparently modeled after one of the less succesful interior design schemes from MTV's The Real World. The entire show shone with phoniness and an overwhelming desire to seem "cool", after a few months the name Craig Jackson (one of the most egregiously cheesy ersatz hip anchors) could make me cringe in terror.

But the commercials were even worse. Many of them were specially tailored to their captive teen audience, and there were awful Nike commercials promoting a sort of faux-individualism that was obviously pandering to people who wanted to be rebels but had nothing to rebel against; there were noxious Pepsi ads with a fake feel-good heal the world theme; there were ads so horrible that the trauma has wiped them from my brain. Three minutes of ads, every day. Spoonfed to an audience larger than the then most popular teen drama on at the time (Beverly Hills 90210). At the time it struck me as vaguely orwellian, upon reflection I can admire the evil brilliance of it. Channel One is still on in classrooms today; 90210 is long gone. Channel One is relatively cheap to produce. Aaron Spelling should take notes.

* From the primedia website.

Despite the obvious commercial-centric nature of Channel One, and despite the fact that I was subjected to the broadcasts for four consecutive years, I actually didn't think they were terribly bad.

Granted, the anchors were often corny and tried way too hard to be cool, but I remember quite a lot of good investigative reporting going on. In fact, I recall that Lisa Ling would quite frequently be sent halfway around the world on these crazy (and often illegal) trips to places like Iraq, China, and Russia. I remember these particular reports because they were so damn gutsy...you don't see major news networks doing this kind of stuff.

I actually think Channel One is a fairly good thing. Sure, kids are being pounded with advertising, but that's nothing new. The good thing is that Channel One keeps kids informed on current events. If not for that 13-minute broadcast every morning, I'd have been totally clueless as to what was going on in the world during my junior high years.

Then again, there was that one time where they had Carrot Top as a guest anchor. Shudder.

Channel One, oh wow.

It's been years since I've watched a Channel One broadcast. Anyone else remember Kathy Kronenberger, or Hicks Neal? It seemed like every time I changed schools, Channel One changed anchors, but those two were there a long time.

While the point was clearly advertising revenue, Channel One provided reasonable news coverage - especially to those of us who were busy doing other things instead of watching the news. The fact that it came on during class was cool, because it provided a break from classwork. It was convenient, because hey, we were in class anyway - why not give us a dose of current events?

I especially liked Channel One's annual "Year in Review" broadcast. Those were pretty cool.

Ever notice how they always sent their news anchors to dangerous locations and then they'd sneak out, telling the camera "We're not supposed to leave without our escort" or once even "These people could lose their jobs/citizenship/lives if they're caught talking to us" and other absurdities. Or the "episode" when one of the female anchors was half naked in front of the camera, because she was in some middle eastern country where she couldn't be outside unless fully clothed.

This show was responsible for wasting approximately 315 hours of my life, as I had spend 15 minutes a day from 6th to 12th grade watching this drivel. I've even served detention for refusing to watch it. Big Brother has nothing on this program.

The only thing this program produced that added to the world of worth was/might have been Lisa Ling. She actually went on to become a "serious newscaster" and interviewed Barbara Walters. Whether adding to the field of journalism was a Good Thing is anyone's guess.

"Channel None"

A Report
by Marcus Kellis


Every day in small towns across the nation, students at the public high schools are subjected to four minutes of advertising along with six minutes of biased, poor reporting which is more often than not completely unrelated to the school curriculum. Advertisements are targetted to the lucrative fourteen-to-nineteen year old market, and the students of the high school can be disciplined if the broadcast does not recieve their full, undivided attention, whether it's showing anti-drug propaganda or the thrilling Plays of the Week, often violent captures of football plays, submitted by "Channel One(TM) Schools" nationwide. Channel One 'News' misuses the compulsory attendance laws enforced in the United States, wastes school and taxpayer time and money, and may in fact promote violent entertainment.

Channel One News is a product of Primedia Inc., a publicly-held company. Previous to this, it was held by Whttle Communications. Other properties owned by Primedia include Seventeen Magazine, a popular magazine often purported toencourage gender roles and teach young girls to be self-consious, and The Weekly Reader. Ch. One is shown via televisions installed in classrooms by the company, free of charge. Channel One's cost lies, essentially, in the time devoted to it by schools. 8.3 million students in 40% of American high schools view the program, according to company figures. Hardware provided to schools includes a satellite dish, videotape recorder for recording each day's program, monitors for each classroom, and essential wiring. While Primedia purports that "more than 200 million worth of equipment has been installed in schools and is regularly serviced free of charge," (1998), 10-K forms that are mandatory for companies to report to the Securities and Exchange Commition from March 1997 show that Primedia listed the value of "school equipment" and "deferred wiring and installation" at $56 and $58 million, respectively. Combined, we then get $114 million, which is a very good deal under the $200 million figure given by the company publicly.

Obviously, Channel One's televisions et al are taken back if use of the program is discontinued -- Primedia Inc. has ownership of all equipment at all times. Schools, usually, must promise that 80 percent of classrooms will show the program on 90 percent of school days. According to a 1995 figure by the Consumers Union, a thirty-second spot on the program costs nearly $200,000. With corporate sponsorships in schools already commonplace -- many have heard tales of people arrested for wearing Pepsi shirts on a Coca-Cola-sponsored "Coke Day" -- one has to wonder if using one-eighteenth of a seventy-minute school hour's time to blast children with advertisements that may directly clash with preferences of the parent on what the child eats, drinks, or consumes otherwise, be it an album or magazine.

In "The Hidden Costs of Channel One: Esimates for the Fifty States", written by the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (Apr. 1, 1998), researchers looked into various aspects of how Channel One News affects every student and teacher's day. Broadcasting Channel One takes up six to seven days of instruction over a complete school year. On average, using estimates of attendance and Primedia Inc.'s own figures, $300 million a year of the public's money is wasted requiring students to watch two minutes of commercials. Twelve minutes a day of a secondary school's time costs almost $158,000/year, far exceeding both the total value of Channel One's equipment per school -- $17,000, by their figures -- and the annual rental value of the equipment -- $4,000.

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I used that U of W report a lot in this essay.

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