Babies' TV: US Lobbyists Muster Opposition

27 February 2007

BOSTON, Mass: Flying in the face of advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children younger than two should not watch television, BabyFirstTV is set to spread from its bridgeheads on the Dish Network and DirecTV to more than ten US cable TV systems in the next six months.

Moreover, a London-headquartered rival, BabyTV, which has metastasized to forty-five countries in two years, will make its move on the US in the fall. In addition to premium channels, videos and DVDs made for infants and toddlers rack up more than $100 million (€76.0m; £50.9m) in annual sales.

Despite baby TV advocates' hyping of its developmental benefits, little is known about the impact of TV viewing on very young children. Today, there are even video games for infants as young as six months and the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 43% of babies younger than one year watch television every day.

Worries Dimitri Christakis, a pediatric researcher at the University of Washington: "We're in the midst of a huge national experiment on the next generation of children. We don't know the effects and we're letting them watch."

In a scenario that some fear will fulfil Aldous Huxley's fearsome predictions in his 1932 novel Brave New World, western civilisation is apparently more determined than ever to propagate future consumers from the cradle.

But the juggernaut of childhood indoctrination is under challenge by a growing tide of opposition [WARC News: 21-Feb-07]. Latest to take up the cudgels on kids' behalf is the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

The campaign's co-founder Susan Linn, who teaches psychiatry at Harvard, avers that:

  • From 1992 to 1997, the amount of money spent on marketing to children doubled, from $6.2 billion to $12.7bn. Today marketers are spending upward of $15bn.

  • Children influence purchases totaling over $600bn a year.

  • Children spend almost forty hours a week outside of school consuming media, most of which is commercially driven.

  • The average child sees about 40,000 commercials each on television alone.

  • 65% of children eight to eighteen have a TV set in their bedroom, as do 32% of children two to seven and 26% of children under two.

  • The marketing industry has found that babies are requesting brands as soon as they speak.
Opines Susan Gregory Thomas, another opponent of baby-targeting TV and author of Buy Buy Baby, a book on marketing to babies due out in May: "What people meant by stimulation was talking to your baby and hanging out - things people naturally do.

"Somehow the gravitas of having neuroscience tell us we have to have stimulation has been translated into beeping toys and flashing lights and computers and the television."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff