SVP, Children's Media Lesli Rotenberg 2011 TCA Press Tour Remarks


PBS KIDS Session  - January 8, 2011

For today’s kids, media seems like a constant companion.   In addition to watching TV, kids spend enormous amounts of time on other media platforms.  A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that kids as young as 8 spend nearly 8 hours a day with media – TV, movies, music, games and computers.  If you think about it, that equates to a full-time job!  Lesli Rotenberg

In his book Grown up Digital, Don Tapscott, says that for today’s children, “technology is like air.”   If you have children, you’ve probably seen them move seamlessly between screens and activities, playing a game at the same time they watch TV and text their friends.   Two-thirds of 4-7 year olds have used an iPhone or iTouch and 85% have used one owned by a parent, a phenomenon known as the “pass back” effect.  

But is all this technology helping kids learn?

For PBS, developing media that supports children’s learning is part of our DNA.  Like our groundbreaking work on television with Sesame Street in the 1960s, our focus is harnessing the incredible power of media across platforms to propel learning.   Most importantly, we’ve seen proof through research that our approach is moving the needle to help kids learn.

We have a large body of research that shows how our television programs help children learn; for example, a University of Pennsylvania study showed that children increased literacy skills by 46% after watching as few as 2 episodes of SUPER WHY.  These children were then able to transfer the knowledge they gained into other contexts when tested.  

And now we have some of the earliest evidence that our content is most powerful when used across multiple platforms.  Independent research is showing that our multimedia content is accelerating learning for kids and closing the achievement gap.  A study conducted by Shelley Pasnik of Education Development Center, who is on today’s panel, showed that preschool children who participated in a curriculum incorporating PBS KIDS video and games into classroom instruction were better prepared for kindergarten than those who didn’t.  We’ve also seen how participating with multiple properties across different platforms increases media’s impact on learning.  

PBS is leading the research charge on the app frontier as well. A recent study shows that kids who played with our Martha Speaks app made significant gains, increasing vocabulary as much as 31% in a two week period.

Much of this research was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and I’m happy to report that we received another $72 million grant to continue our innovative work in literacy and to extend it into math content for kids ages 2-8.  This chart tells the story of how we are developing content for a new generation of kids.  Our development process has fundamentally changed, as we think about what each platform offers as part of the overall learning ecosystem that we create. 

Although how we deliver media has changed, the core of our work is still the creation of content that tells compelling stories with characters kids love and, perhaps most critical of all, a deep respect for each child’s intelligence. We believe that every encounter kids have with our characters represents an opportunity to make learning engaging, fun, and relevant.  Like our newest character The Cat in the Hat, we know that kids love to explore. We feed their innate curiosity with characters that make them laugh, have fun, feel empowered and model behaviors kids can practice in their real lives.

In the last five years, we have transformed our kids properties, developing for television and emerging media platforms, with stunning results.  

We’ve found that extending our content across multiple platforms has grown our TV audience.  This fall PBS KIDS programs held four of the top ten spots in children’s programming among kids 2 – 5 on weekdays for September, October and November, according to Nielsen. 

Kids are consuming our content online too – in fact was recently ranked the #1 kids video site.  We stream more video than any other children’s media entity.  In November, 5.4 million viewers streamed nearly 103 million videos. Viewers spent an average of 35 minutes watching video on our site in November, more than twice the monthly average for other top kids’ sites like Nick and Disney.

And kids spend even more time playing our games.  Online, consistently attracts more than 8.7 million unique visitors monthly. 

That’s why we’re committing significant resources to creating original content for the web. Last year, PBS KIDS launched two web original series – FIZZY’S LUNCH LAB and WILSON AND DITCH, DIGGING AMERICA. Both have been hugely popular and we’ll talk with their producers today. Building on that success, we have two new online properties launching this year, focused on music and Spanish language acquisition.   

In the past year, we’ve launched seven iPhone and iPad mobile apps, including the recent Dinosaur Train App, and coming on January 15, The Electric Company Wordball app for kids ages 6-8, featuring our first arcade game.   

Throughout the coming year, PBS will introduce an array of media, leveraging new platforms like the iPad and break-through technologies like augmented reality that have the power to engage and teach in totally new ways.

In this new media world, PBS has a distinct advantage because our business model allows us to provide the most content – including full length episodes of our TV programs  - for free.  The real secret to our success, though, in this transmedia world where content remains key, is the fact that we work with the smartest, most creative producers of children’s media on the planet. 

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