If you’re a parent, grandparent, caregiver or just love children, some wonderful things are happening at KCPT — a brand new channel called ‘KCPT PBS Kids’ premieres on January 16, and it’s going to be everything you know and love about PBS Kids available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
KCPT hosted Lesli Rotenberg (Senior Vice President and General Manager of Children’s Media and Education at PBS) last month to introduce the new channel to education leaders in our community. KCPT’s Sherry Kuehl sat down with Rotenberg in our studio to talk about what viewers can expect with the new service.
Sherry Kuehl: This is wonderful, and as a mom it brings back such great memories of all the quality PBS Kids shows, and I think it’s going to be a game changer for children’s viewing.
Lesli Rotenberg: That’s exactly how we’ve been referring to it, as a game changer, because PBS Kids’ educational content has never been available before to families in the evening and it turns out that twice as much viewing happens in the evening than the morning for kids. So, 6-9 pm is prime time viewing for kids’ TV, and we’ve never been available before live on television because most PBS stations are running grown-up shows at that time.
That’s when parents really need kids’ programming on because they’re making dinner, they’re doing things like that. So, it’s really going to fill a need, and the same is true over the weekend. Weekend viewing is extremely high across the country for kids’ TV but the most educational content has never been available to all kids. So, the idea that it’s going to be free over the air through KCPT for the first time ever, anytime, anywhere, 24/7, is really groundbreaking.
Kuehl: And as a parent I like to say that PBS children’s programming was really a safe haven, because you never had to worry about any kind of advertisements, or the advertisements that were “gimme, gimme, gimme” for your children. This is what I don’t think a lot of people know or think that deeply about. Before any animation is done, before any story-boarding, it’s with educators.
Rotenberg: That’s absolutely true. What we hear most from parents is what you said. We hear “thank you, thank you, because my child, when they’re watching PBS Kids on KCPT, is not asking me for something all the time.” I think that comes from the philosophy of treating children as citizens and not consumers, and that’s one big differentiator. The other one is really the secret sauce of PBS and that’s what you talked about, where we start with the need for literacy, the need for fundamental math skills, STEM science or technology, engineering math, or social emotional skills, and we start working with educational advisors and building a learning framework. Then we design the television show around that.
The characters in the story are all built to support the learning objective, and then when it’s all created with the most creative people on the planet, from the Jim Henson Company, who are bringing you our newest show Splash and Bubbles, to the Mr Rogers Company, who are bringing you Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, then we go out and we test it. We do a before and an after and a control and experimental, and these are scientific studies with low income communities, and we make sure that what we were designed to teach is actually being taught to these children and that they’re coming away with new skills that are really getting them ready to succeed when they get to kindergarten, or when they get to first or second or third grade.
Keuhl: I want to give KCPT a shout out, and PBS, because it’s not just ‘sit down and let your kid watch this.’ There’s ways to interact, there’s ways to encourage the learning, parents can watch with the kids.
Rotenberg: Yes, there’s one more aspect that we’re really excited about. It’s going to come a little bit later, but it’s this idea of interactivity. So, what we’re going to be able to do is — kids can toggle between watching the live TV and playing a game related to the exact same learning objective, and they’ve never been able to do that before.
Keuhl: You were just acknowledged by the American Academy of Pediatrics about screen time and how much kids should be watching.
Rotenberg: The American Association of Pediatrics just came out with new guidelines. We’ve always followed their guidelines and the new guidelines are really interesting because what they’re saying is all screens are not created equal, and you really have to find think about the context and the content. So, for example, before they said no one under two should be exposed to any screen and now they’re saying wait a minute, if you’re via Skype and you’re talking to your grandparent that’s okay. The kids under two could do that. And the other thing they do is they actually did a shout-out to PBS Kids. They said when kids are eighteen months they can watch television, but only if it’s designed explicitly for education, and it’s developmentally appropriate like PBS Kids. So, they really recognized that out programming is very intentional.
Keuhl: Now I’ve got to ask you, what took so long? Was it because you were trying to get it 100 percent just perfect before you were able to debut? Because I wish I’d had this back in the day.
Rotenberg: It’s a great question. I think that, we had one channel to work with for a very long time, and then recently kids media habits have changed, so we really studied kids media habits, and we discovered these two phenomenons. One was kids are watching a lot of live TV, more than anybody thought in the evening and at the weekends, and that was a missed opportunity for us. And the other was how much they’re on mobile and how mobile is growing, and so we wanted to be both places, and the idea of this service is it’s both. It’s not either/or, it’s the idea that it’s a live television opportunity, and that’s free to everyone. And it’s also the idea that it’s about the future and where kids are going and the idea of mobile streaming and mobile gaming, and putting those concepts together for the first time.
Visit KCPT’s schedules page to view the full PBS KIDS channel lineup.