Children's television series are television programs designed for and marketed to children, normally scheduled for broadcast during the morning and afternoon when children are awake. They can sometimes run during the early evening, allowing younger children to watch them after school. The purpose of the shows is mainly to entertain and sometimes to educate.
Children's television is nearly as old as television itself, with early examples including shows such as Kukla, Fran and Ollie (1947), Howdy Doody, and Captain Kangaroo. The origins of television programs for children began with similar programs on radio; in the early 1930s, adventure serials such as Little Orphan Annie began to emerge, becoming a staple of children's afternoon radio listening.
Later shows for very young children include Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. There was also more children's television such as Thomas & Friends, Blue's Clues, SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, and Caillou.
In the United States, early children's television was often a marketing branch of a larger corporate product, such as Disney, and it rarely contained any educational elements (for instance, The Magic Clown, a popular early children's program, was primarily an advertisement for Bonomo's Turkish taffy product).
This practice continued, albeit in a much toned-down manner, through the 1980s in the United States, when the Federal Communications Commission prohibited tie-in advertising on broadcast television. These regulations do not apply to cable, which is out of the reach of the FCC's content regulations.
Later non-educational children's television programs included the science fiction programmes of Irwin Allen (most notably Lost in Space), the fantasy series of Sid and Marty Krofft, the extensive cartoon empire of Hanna-Barbera and the numerous sitcoms that aired as part of TGIF in the 1990s, many of these programs fit a broader description of family-friendly television, targeting a broad demographic that includes adults without excluding children.
In the United States, Saturday mornings were generally scheduled with cartoon from the 1960s to 1980s as viewership with that programming would pull in 20 million watchers which dropped to 2 million in 2003. In 1992, teen comedies and a "Today" show weekend edition were first to displace the cartoon blocks on NBC. Starting in September 2002, the networks turned to their affiliated cable cartoon channels or outside programmers for their blocks. The other two Big Three television networks soon did the same. Infomercials replaced the cartoon on Fox in 2008.
The Saturday cartoons were less of a draw due to the various cable cartoon channels (Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, etc.) being available all week starting in the 1990s. With recordable options becoming more prevalent in the 1990s with Videocassette recorder then its 21st century replacements of DVDs, DVRs and streaming services. FCC rule changes in the 1990s regarding the E/I programming and limitation on kid-focus advertising made the cartoons less profitable. Another possible contributor is the rising divorce rate and the following children's visitation pushed more "quality time" with the kids instead of TV watching.
Children's television series can target a wide variety of key demographics; the programming used to target these demographics varies by age and gender. Few television networks target infants and toddlers under two years of age, in part due to widespread opposition to the practice. Children's programming can be targeted toward persons 2 to 11 years of age; in practice, this is further divided into the preschool demographic (2 to 6 years old) and the older children or preteen/tween demographic (6 to 11 years old).
Preschool-oriented programming is generally more overtly educational. In a number of cases, such shows are produced in consultation with educators and child psychologists in an effort to teach age-appropriate lessons (the series Sesame Street pioneered this approach when it debuted in 1969). Adaptations of illustrated children's book series are one subgenre of shows targeted at younger children. A format that has increased in popularity since the 1990s (see, for example, Blue's Clues, Dora the Explorer and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse) is the "pseudo-interactive" program, in which the action of the show stops and breaks the fourth wall to give a young viewer the opportunity to answer a question or dilemma put forth on the show, with the action continuing as if the viewer answered correctly.
Shows that target the demographic of persons 6 to 11 years old focus primarily on entertainment and can range from comedic cartoons (with an emphasis on slapstick) to action series. Most children's television series targeting this age range are animated (with a few exceptions, perhaps the best-known being the long-running Power Rangers franchise), and many often specifically target boys (especially in the case of action series), girls or sometimes both. Efforts to create educational programming for this demographic have had a mixed record of success; although such series made up the bulk of educational programming on broadcast television in the first decade of the 2000s, they also tend to have very low viewership. PBS had somewhat greater success with its now defunct educational programming block, PBS Kids GO!, that targets this demographic.
The teen demographic targets viewers 11 to 17 years of age. Live-action series that target this demographic are more dramatic and developed, including teen dramas and teen sitcoms. In some cases, they may contain more mature content that is usually not permissible on shows targeting younger viewers, and can include some profanity or suggestive dialogue. Animated programming is not generally targeted at this demographic; cartoons that are aimed at teenagers generally feature more crude humor than those oriented toward younger children. Educational programming targeted at this demographic has historically been rare, other than on NASA TV's education block; this has somewhat changed with Litton Entertainment's entry into educational television in the early 2010s, as Litton's programs exploited a loophole in U.S. regulations that allows teen-oriented programs to be counted as educational but not be subject to restrictions on advertising for children's programs. However, some programming aimed at the demographic has had some tangenital educational value in regards to social issues, such as the now-defunct T-NBC block of sitcoms, which often tackled issues such as underage drinking or drug use.
One of the issues that is often brought up is that of gendered stereotypes within children's television. As was mentioned earlier, certain demographics are assigned for different shows. Mainly, there are "boy" shows and "girl" shows that shows will try to aim their content towards. These shows will have mainly male characters as leads because statistics show that girls are more likely to watch boy shows than boys are to watch girl shows. As far as viewership is concerned, this means producers will make more from airing shows with leads that are male, so they have stuck with that formula, despite the changing times.
In a study titled "Four-Year-Olds’ Beliefs About How Others Regard Males and Females," researcher May Ling Halim observed how television viewing and interactions of parents within a household may affect a child's perception on gender. She had about 250 four-year-olds interviewed and she asked them questions about their parents, the opposite gender, how much TV they watched and about their feelings on their own gender. The study used four-year-olds because at age four, children are able to make distinctions concerning gender and concerning how two people may view the same thing in different ways. The results of the study showed that for the most part, children were shielded from society's gender hierarchy. Each seemed to favor their own gender which is typical of little kids. Household hierarchy as well as exposure to TV increased children's awareness of the gender hierarchies that are present in the adult world. Halim also observed how society's higher valuing of males could affect how children approach pathways to academics and occupations later in their lives.
Whether the shows are from Nickelodeon or from the Disney Channel, there are many instances where boys and girls are cast in typical roles that are recognized widely by society and a large percentage of the world. While there are many studies that have been done exploring the topic of children's perceptions of gender through television, there are few pieces of concrete evidence that tell people that what children are watching is actually harmful to them.
Children's television is created for many markets, with notable successes like Play School, Captain Tugg, The Magic Roundabout, Ivor the Engine, Clangers, Noggin the Nog, Flower Pot Men, and Thunderbirds.
In the U.S., there are three major commercial cable networks dedicated to children's television. All three also operate secondary services with specialized scopes drawing upon their respective libraries, such as a focus on specific demographics, or a focus upon classic programming that fall within their scope and demographics.
, and targets older teens and adults with mature content during its late night daypart Adult Swim.
Under current mandates, all broadcast television stations in the United States, including digital subchannels, must show a minimum of three hours per week of educational children's programming, regardless of format. As a result, digital multicast networks whose formats should not fit children's programming, such as Live Well Network and TheCoolTV, are required to carry educational programs to fit the FCC mandates. In 2017, there was a programming block that aired on syndication called KidsClick. The transition to digital television has allowed for the debut of whole digital subchannels that air children's programming 24/7; examples include Universal Kids, Qubo, Discovery Family and Smile. PBS, the United States' main public television network, devotes over eight hours of its weekday schedule, and several hours of its weekend schedule, to educational children's programs, and the country's only directly nationally operated TV service for public consumption, NASA TV, also includes educational programs in its schedule for use in schools.
English-language children's specialty channels in Canada are primarily owned by Corus Entertainment and DHX Media. Corus operates YTV, Treehouse, and Teletoon, as well as localized versions of the Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, and Nickelodeon brands. DHX operates Family Channel, as well as the spin-off services Chrgd and Family Jr. BBC Kids is the only English-language children's television channel in Canada that is not owned by Corus or DHX; since 2011, it has been majority owned and operated by British Columbia's public broadcaster Knowledge Network.
In French, Corus operates Télétoon and La chaîne Disney, DHX operates Télémagino (a French version of Family Jr.), TVA Group operates the preschool-oriented Yoopa, and Bell Media runs the teen-oriented Vrak. Via its majority-owned subsidiary Telelatino, Corus also operates two children and family-oriented networks in Spanish and Italian, TeleNiños and Telebimbi respectively.
On broadcast television and satellite to cable undertakings, children's television content is relegated to the country's public and designated provincial educational broadcasters, including CBC Television and Ici Radio-Canada Télé, as well as City Saskatchewan, CTV Two Alberta (formerly Access), Knowledge Network, Télé-Québec, TFO, and TVOntario (TVOKids.
The BBC and ITV plc both operate children's oriented television networks on digital terrestrial television: the BBC runs CBBC as well as the preschool-oriented CBeebies, while ITV runs CITV. Both channels were spun off from children's television strands on their respective flagship channels (BBC One, BBC Two, and ITV). BBC and ITV have largely phased out children's programming from their main channels in order to focus on the dedicated services; in 2012, as part of the "Delivering Quality First" initiative, the BBC announced that it would end the broadcast of CBBC programmes on BBC One following the completion of the transition to digital terrestrial television, citing low viewership in comparison to broadcasts of the programmes on the CBBC channel. Channel 5 also broadcasts a preschool-oriented block known as Milkshake!, while its owner, Viacom International Media Networks Europe, also runs versions of Nickelodeon and its sister networks Nicktoons and Nick Jr.
Sony Pictures Television-owned Pop, which formerly operated as a pay television channel, launched on Freeview on 20 March 2014. It was joined by preschool spin-off Tiny Pop on 7 January 2015. There was also a TV channel owned by CSC Media Group called Pop Max. British versions of Cartoon Network and its sister networks Boomerang and Cartoonito, as well as Disney Channel and its spin-offs Disney XD and Disney Junior also operate.
Ireland has one dedicated children's TV service RTÉjr. Since 1998 RTÉ2 has provided children's programming from 07:00 to 17:30 each weekday, original titled The Den, the service was renamed TRTÉ and RTÉjr in 2010. Irish Language service TG4 provide two strands of Children's programming Cúla 4 Na nÓg and Cúla 4 during the day. Commercial broadcaster TV3 broadcast a children's strand called Gimme 3 from 1998 - 1999. And Broadcast a new strand called 3Kids
Children's channels that exist in Australia are ABC Me, ABC Kids, KidsCo, Disney Channel and its spin-offs Disney XD and Disney Junior, CBeebies, Nickelodeon and its spin-off Nick Jr., and Cartoon Network and its spin-off Boomerang.
Children's channels that exist in Japan are NHK Educational TV, Kids Station, Disney XD, Nickelodeon (now under a block on Animax, known as "Nick Time") and Cartoon Network (Cartoon Network's age demographic is moving towards older viewers with shows such as Regular Show and Adventure Time).
One of the most well-known children's TV programs comes from Iceland, LazyTown, was created by Magnus Scheving, European Gymnastics Champion and CEO of LazyTown Entertainment. The show has aired in over 180 countries, been dubbed into more than 32 languages and is the most expensive children's show of all time.