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Education Reporter

NBC Will Partner with Channel One

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Channel One, the controversial ad-supported TV broadcast that about 7 million teenagers watch at 11,000 schools each day, recently changed hands for the second time in its 18-year history. Primedia, which bought the channel in 1994 for $250 million, sold it this year for just $10 million to Alloy Media & Marketing, a youth-culture marketing specialist. Alloy plans to spend another $12 million to update the technology of its new acquisition.

As the numbers show, Channel One is not what it once was. Alloy, however, hopes a new partnership with NBC News may improve both Channel One's image and its profits. NBC will produce original content for Channel One, and may also provide news clips from NBC's nightly broadcasts. In turn, NBC hopes to reach a younger audience and turn young people into "consumers of news."

Although Channel One's mission is ostensibly to expose middle and high school students to current events, analyst William Hoynes found that news content made up only slightly more than half of Channel One's airtime. And 80% of the "news" airtime covered sports, weather, plane or train crashes, or features or profiles unrelated to breaking news. That left only about 10% of the total broadcast for world and political news.

The channel has drawn the strongest criticism, however, not for its relatively light treatment of the news, but for its advertising. Each 12-minute broadcast includes two minutes of commercials. Advertisers such as Clearasil, Gatorade, Taco Bell and the Army pay about $200,000 for each 30-second ad spot. Pro-family groups often protest when Channel One advertises R-rated movies to middle schoolers. Aside from advertising, the regular content sometimes features music groups famous for sexually explicit lyrics or for promoting gang violence. Some groups have protested any commercials appearing in schools, no matter what their content.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported last year that children who watch Channel One remember the commercials more clearly than the news. Massachusetts is currently considering a bill that would ban advertising in public schools. Various school districts and states, including New York, California and Rhode Island, have banned Channel One at different times.

In July's Advertising Age, Simon Dumenco offers his opinion that Channel One may be "an idea whose time has come and gone." Dumenco believes that with consumers more conscious of corporate responsibility than ever before, companies that advertise on school time may find it's not worth the money. "There are plenty of other avenues for marketers to reach teens effectively on their own time," he writes.

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