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Parallels Can Be Drawn. Children’s Television in Europe, the US and Russia
Text by Marina Lukanina and Irina Gavrilova

Both European and American children are heavy users of television nowadays. They are growing up in much more media-diverse households than their parents. It is a known fact that children do not watch only programs intended specifically for them. Horst Stipp, director of social and development research at NBC, mentioned that US commercial television executives are fully aware that American children prefer situational to children’s educational programs. He points out that most of the programs that US children watch are neither specially created for children nor shown in what is known as children’s TV time – Saturday mornings. No educational children’s television show appears in the top-rated programs, with the exception of “Sesame Street”, a very well known program for pre-schoolers. Looking at the listings of the top 10 programs for children in Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands, it’s clear that the most popular shows are comedies, game shows and soap operas.

Despite this, the number of kids’ channels in Europe and the US keeps on growing, regardless of the number of tough competitors already on-air. Recent data indicates that, on average, children in the United States spend approximately three hours a day watching TV. In view of this, Congress determined that TV stations – both commercial and non-commercial – have an obligation to offer educational and informational children’s programming. In addition, television licensees, cable operators, and satellite providers must limit the amount of commercials aired during children’s programs.

Tina Kandelaki – the host of Samy Umny
(The Smartest One)

Ex-Miss World Oksana Fedorova
with Philya and Stepashka

The 1990 Children’s Television Act (USA) was the first congressional act that specifically regulated children’s television. Commercial television broadcasters are required by law to air a minimum of three hours per week of children’s educational programming. The goal of the Children’s Television Act is to increase the availability of high-quality educational programs.

In the UK, a dedicated children’s television service began on the BBC in 1946, with the first regular slots appearing from 1948. In the 1980s and 1990s, new competition arrived in the form of Channel 4, Five and the commercial children’s channels available on cable and satellite platforms. By 2002, with the launch of the BBC’s children’s channels, CBBC and CBeebies, the number of hours dedicated to children’s programming broadcast in the UK was higher than ever – over 15 dedicated children’s channels existed in the UK.

Children’s Broadcasting in Russia

Russia experienced an intensive development of state television and radio broadcast in the 1970s-1980s; the number of programs for children as well as cartoons increased. However, during the early 1990s, children’s TV programming was in a real crisis. According to Russian legislature, state TV channels must dedicate 15% of their air time to children’s programming. However, until recently, Russia was among only a few countries that did not have a separate children’s channel. On September 1, 2007 a new children’s TV service was created: “Bibigon” for ages 4-17. Bibigon does not have its own frequency, but produces programs for Sport TV, Culture Channel, Russia TV and NTV Plus. The name Bibigon is taken from a literary creation of Korney Chukovsky, a very famous children’s writer who died in 1969. The annual channel budget last year was US$39 million. Bibigon allocates plenty of time for educational programs. Almost half of the programs are locally produced.

There are different opinions on whether Bibigon actually lives up to the expectations of being a good children’s TV producer. According to Anri Vartanov, professor of journalism at Moscow State University, the first thing that you notice about Bibigon is that the least “prime time” is allocated for kids’ programming – early morning (from 7-9am) on Sport TV channel, after-lunch time (from 4-6pm) on the Culture Channel and sporadic broadcasts on Russia TV from 11.50-1.40pm and from 2.10-3.30pm). Sometimes the schedule is not really followed, specifically by Russia TV. Vartanov also comments on the fact that there is very little contemporary Russian animation available on Bibigon. The reason is probably a lack of finance for that type of entertainment programming.

Natalya Golub in her article in Literaturnaya Gazeta mentions that the changes on the Culture Channel were not very visible when Bibigon appeared, because the channel traditionally showed carefully selected children’s programs long before Bibigon. The fact that the Sports Channel allocates early morning hours for Bibigon programming is somehow distracting for children who have to get ready for school and be there by 8.30-9am every weekday morning. It is pretty inconvenient for them to watch Bibigon programs on Sports Channel during the early morning hours. Russia TV usually repeats Bibigon programs broadcasted in the early morning on Sports Channel during the day and fills the rest of the time with different teleseries. Clearly, the main issue for Bibigon is not having its own separate channel for the children’s programming and the complications of sharing the TV network with other channels.

Channel 1 launched TeleNanny channel a couple of years ago targeted for kids from 3-8 years old. The channel concept was developed together with child psychologists, parents and of course, children themselves. This has created what many say is a really interesting kids’ channel. Telenanny is a separate 24-hr channel launched by Channel 2. However, it’s a cable channel and in order to have it at home, your cable operator has to have the rights to broadcast this channel and not every cable operator does.

The appearance of such ‘children’s windows’ in the federal channel networks is the first serious step towards the development of children’s TV in Russia. After studying various online forums one can notice pretty positive feedback about this new children’s TV channel. In particular, viewers really enjoy children’s TV programs of the 1990s that are being repeated on this channel ‘Star Hour’ ( ), ‘Jungle Call’ ( ), etc.

Paradoxically, the creation of children’s TV is not profitable due to the State Duma’s law banning commercials on children’s programs, so money is scarce for this type of programming. There are some exceptions, such as the program ‘The Smartest One’ ( ), the program that has the highest rating on CTC channel; ‘Smart Guys and Girls’ ( ) on Channel 1 and ‘Good Night, Kids’ ( , ).

Some of the best examples of TV children’s programs from the 1990s are no longer easily available – ‘In the World of Animals’ ( ) was moved to the Domestic () channel which is not freely available to all viewers; as well as programs such as ‘The Jungle Call’ ( ) – the winner of a TEFI Award for “Best Children’s Program”. ‘The Star Hour’ ( ) simply disappeared from TV.

The most famous children’s program ‘Good Night, Kids’ ( , ) has been broadcast for 45 years. It first appeared on September 1, 1964. The program is an absolute winner in terms of the number of episodes produced and popularity among viewers. Well-known children’s writers and poets – Alexander Kurlyandski, Eduard Uspenski and Andrei Usachev – were pioneers in establishing the program concept. Various options for the program title were considered – ‘Evening Fairy Tale’, ‘Fairy Tale for the Night’, etc. Eventually it was decided to call it ‘Good Night, Kids’. The program has kept this title ever since.

In the beginning, ‘Good Night, Kids’ was broadcast live since the necessary equipment for recording the program did not exist at that time. The first series were made of images and a voice-over. Later puppet shows and small plays were introduced. Various theater actors took part in the program as well as 4-6 year old children.

The cast of Sesame Street

Russia’s favorite TV friends –
Philya and Stepashka

The program is intended for children aged 3-7. There are five main characters of the program: Khrusha the piglet, Stepashka the rabbit, Philya the dog, Karkusha the crow and Mishka the bear. In 1997, 2002 and 2003 the program received a TEFI Award in the Best Children’s Program nomination. The program has a special theme song ‘Tired Toys are Asleep’ ( ) that became one of its main distinctions. A plasticine stop-animation that accompanied the theme song was created in 1981. It was changed a couple of times during the 1990s and finally in 2002 it became what we see on TV today. Children all over the country look forward to seeing their favorite heroes every evening. The program is a combination of entertainment mixed with an educational and mentoring aspect.

Various famous TV anchors have hosted the program, including the winner of the Miss World Competition, Oxana Fedorova and the famous actress and producer, Anna Mikhalkova. The plot of the program is usually built around educational and didactic stories where all the heroes take part. The host explains how to behave in certain situations. A cartoon illustrating the theme culminates the program. There is no such program like it in the world taking into account its 45 years of existence. It produces a monthly magazine called ‘Good Night, Kids’ – a nice supplement for the TV program. The program runs Monday through Friday on Russia TV from 8.45-9pm.

One would hope that the phrase ‘the children are our future’ is not just a nice phrase, but rather an accurate observation that the future requires careful nurturing and developing. Children’s TV in Russia was at its peak in the 1980-90s when some of the best examples of children’s programs appeared. The fact that more and more attention seems to be turning back to children’s TV now is definitely an important step in the further development of children’s programming in modern Russia.

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