Who couldn't use a little more Big Bird or Daniel Tiger?
PBS Kids, the kid-focused programming arm of the PBS network, will be launching a 24/7 channel on January 16, giving kids and their parents the opportunity to watch preschool- and elementary-friendly programming when it's convenient for them.
As perhaps the biggest player in the children's educational media space, airing shows such as "Sesame Street," "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" and the STEM-focused "Odd Squad," PBS Kids wants to reach children ages 2-8 who are in both low-income and "under-connected" (as far as cable and internet) homes—and they want to do it during the prime family viewing hours of 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"[We have] a desire to reach all children on all platforms, and then with the special focus to make sure we're really accessible to at-risk kids—the kids who live in the highest-need areas, low-income areas," Lesli Rotenberg, PBS general manager of children's media and education, tells Mom.me.
To that end, PBS enlisted researchers to study kids' media habits, which, turns out, have been changing over time. Their findings led PBS to create this new 24/7 service, Rotenberg says, because it will meet a variety of needs.
"So much of media use is still live television," she says, "and while we know that PBS Kids is a wonderful service that people can find on their PBS station, in general, the live service is over at 6 p.m. across the country on weekdays, and that's actually when TV viewing peaks."
And because kids' programming is not available during these peak viewing times, Rotenberg says PBS Kids wanted to make sure its programming was available to kids in need, all the time.
"As we focused on low-income families, a lot of viewing is taking place in homes that only get over-the-air television. We're talking about homes that can't necessarily afford cable or satellite," she adds. "And just a small percentage of viewers, 13 percent, just get over-the-air television. But those kids watch three times as much PBS. Families who don't get cable or satellite rely very heavily on PBS."
And with studies showing that young children have a greater chance of succeeding later on if they have access to high-quality preschool, PBS Kids wants to reach kids that might not have that option.
"It reminds me of the new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, which placed a greater emphasis on the quality of the media the kids watch, whereas before it was purely about quantity," Rotenberg says, noting that the AAP specifically mentioned PBS children's programming. "It all points to the approach we take, which is really unique in that we don't start with the idea for a show, we really start with the curriculum need. We work with educational advisers, and we have built out frameworks for every skill that children need to learn in order to be successful at school, from literacy to science to math to social and emotional skills."
And the 24/7 strategy goes beyond television alone.
"There is so much more media use on mobile now by kids," Rotenberg says.
In fact, the free PBS Kids video app counted 5 billion streams last year, and the organization will now provide live digital streaming of network content on the app as part of that experience.
So where does PBS Kids want to go from here, now that they'll have access to kids on multiple devices all day every day?
"We think of this as the tip of the iceberg," Rotenberg says. "Kids should really be the drivers of their own experience. If they like a property, they should be able to watch it, then they should be able to play the games, and they should be able to watch other episodes of it, and they should really be in the driver's seat and be the programmers of their own experience."
After all, that's how children learn best.
Image via PBS Kids/The Fred Rogers Company