Channel One, the widely criticized commercial television news program aimed at teenagers in schools, made its debut Monday in several high schools complete with ads for candy bars, dandruff shampoo and blue jeans.
The 12-minute daily program is being produced by Whittle Communications, a Knoxville-based media company, and is being tested over the next two months in six schools around the country. The first program included coverage of the show itself and the controversy surrounding it.Before the first show was even aired a number of education groups objected to the idea of allowing advertisers to pitch their products to students in the classroom.
Central High School on the north side of Knoxville is one of the test schools, and the 20 students in Connie Wilkes' homeroom appeared to pay close attention to the program.
The program featured stories on students' reaction to the continuing death threats against author Salman Rushdie. Other stories featured life for a teenager in the Soviet Union and the controversy involving the launch of Channel One.
Also included in the program were 30-second television ads for Snickers candy bars, Head and Shoulders shampoo, and Levi's 501 jeans.
If the test proves successful and advertisers can be persuaded to make a long-term commitment, Whittle Communications LP hopes to make the program available to 8,000 or more schools in fall 1990.
The program is being produced by Whittle, a fast-growing company that has specialized in creating magazines and has sponsored posters that enable advertisers to reach narrowly defined audiences.
The audiences for its magazines, for instance, range from new mothers in doctor's waiting rooms to travel agents to high school students. Its advertiser-sponsored posters hang in offices and school lobbies.
The Channel One test is expected to cost about $5 million. Whittle estimates the hardware alone required to take the program nationwide will cost more than $100 million.
Each of the test schools was given about $50,000 worth of television monitors, video recording equipment and a satellite dish that Whittle promises to maintain.
The system will be used to receive and record the show, which Whittle is producing in Los Angeles, and to televise it once during the school day. Included in each show are up to four 30-second commercials.
In exchange for the equipment and the programming, the schools agreed to run the show once each school day in every classroom.
The launching of Channel One came amid growing criticism by children's advocates and educators, including the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Parent-Teachers Association.
They say such programs inappropriately thrust paid advertising messages at a captive audience in the classroom.