Substitution Effects

by Harry on April 15, 2004

I wonder if anyone can help me. I’m doing some research on Channel One. For those who don’t know Channel One it is a daily newscast for schoolchildren, which is watched in schools. The content is provided to the schools for nothing, and the contracting schools also get a significant amount of televisual equipment for their own use while the contract is in effect. The catch: it broadcasts a 12 minute show, 2 inutes of which are advertisments. Delightful. (Max Sawicky at MaxSpeak
has a nice cost-benefit analysis here). I am interested in it as an example of schools collaborating with corporations in a way that affects the ethos of the school, infusing it with the ethos of the commercial public culture outside the school. But a very minor point that I want to make in the paper is a conjecture that when corporations provide goodies to schools there will be a corresponding drop in the willingness of taxpayers to provide funds. I’m guessing that this happens, eg, when local taxpayers know that a local lottery will provide income to the city or state, and that a substitution effect occurs. My suspicions are increased whenever I describe Channel One to someone and ask them to guess the value of the equipment provided: they MASSIVELY overestimate the value, presumably because they think that any sane person would need to get a hell of a lot of money before they would be willing to force kids to watch commercials. (I’ll put the figure Sawicky and Molnar give below the fold, but even they are pretty certainly overestimating considerably (as they admit)). Rather than conjecture, though, it would be nice to have some empirical evidence of the effect, eg, with respect to a lottery. Does anyone know the literature (or whether there is any) on this?

Its worth about $4 per student per year, on Sawicky and Molnar’s implausibly generous estimate.



Russell Arben Fox 04.15.04 at 3:33 am

I knew Channel 1, like so many other civic-corporate “partnerships,” was a rip-off, but I had no idea how much. It just goes to show how desperate many schools are for funds (and, tragically, how casual many teachers and administrators are in how they fill up their students’ days).

I don’t know of any literature directly relevant to your concern, but I’ll look around. Good luck with it, and please share your conclusions as they develop.


Tom T. 04.15.04 at 3:45 am

The low figures for the value of equipment provided are indeed quite surprising. I wonder if Channel One may have distorted its numbers in some way that has come back to bite them.

I would question the study’s decision, though, to consider the time spent watching Channel One’s content (as opposed to its advertising) as a cost to schools, rather than a benefit. If someone gave the schools free textbooks, it would seem odd to count time spent reading from them as a cost, rather than a benefit, to the school. This classification of Channel One’s content necessarily implies a judgment that none of the content is instructional. That may indeed be true, but it’s not clear from the study.


Bob McGrew 04.15.04 at 4:16 am

I watched Channel One in school. I remember it being mediocre news, and I usually spent my time either 1) watching the interesting bits, or 2) doing homework through the uninteresting bits. Most other people I knew did the same.

Unfortunately, this was much like the class time I spent, too. Most of the class was spent doing worksheets, all the way through high school.

It’s not like children’s time (or teachers) is treated as anything like a valuable resource in schools in America. If anything, the time spent watching Channel One made me spend 12 extra minutes finishing my worksheet at home that night.

(And, as for commercials, it’s not like I didn’t watch any TV at all. I’d seen commercials before.)


countermeme 04.15.04 at 5:32 am

I remember seeing a documentary done by the adbusters organization on FSTV or one of those religious tv stations (yeah o.o weird) a few months ago. wish I knew the name of the documentary. but it escapes me.


Maureen 04.15.04 at 6:23 am

Yeah, I watched Channel One in middle school–it was actually pretty decent, and it wasn’t like we weren’t constantly bombarded with ads everywhere else. And it’s where Lisa Ling got her start.


harry 04.15.04 at 1:31 pm

I agree with Maureen and tom t – in pursuit of this project I watched a lot of Channel One in a one month period last year. It compares favourably with our local news, and a good deal of national news, frankly (and I DO mean to damn with faint praise, there). Sawicky and Molnar consider the content valueless because there is a (pseudo-ad-free) alternative available for free — from CNN. They then consider the time spent watching it as a cost because of the opportunity costs (cost of teachers time etc). I think that’s wrong, for numerous reasons — the issue is ‘what would the students otherwise ACTUALLY have been doing?’ — and if the answer to that is, as bob suggests it is, nothing very different, then the opportunity cost is zero. And, of course, most kids are saturated with commercials — so I doubt that exposure to yet more is directly very harmful (though I’ll be furious if my coemmercial-free kids are forced to watch them). I make all these points in my paper. I focus on my critique on the problem that bob and Russell raise — that administrators have grossly inappropriate views of what should be happening in the classroom and what the ethos of the school should be. So, unlike most leftist critiques which attack Channel One but excuse the administrators on the grounds that they are ina tight spot with money, I aggressively pursue the administrators.

countermeme — if it comes back to you please please please tell me.


maurinsky 04.15.04 at 2:00 pm

I’m sorry I can’t help you with what you’re looking for, but at my daughter’s middle school, the kids got more time to watch Channel 1 than they got for lunch (20 minutes v. 15 minutes) – I never understood why they couldn’t just combine the 2 activities.


Thorley Winston 04.15.04 at 2:51 pm

Channel One was introduced during my senior year and I too found the “news” coverage to be mediocre and the commercials much ado about nothing. It ranked up there MTV News which at the time as I recall kept running the same story about Paula Abdul getting an award from a bricklayer’s association for the second or third year in a row. ;)

I like the idea about playing it during lunchtime in the lunchroom where the students can watch or ignore it as background noise as they see fit although some might object to how televisions have taken the central place of conversation in many households during mealtime. IMNHO that may be of greater concern than having to play a commercial or two in order to get “free” television equipment but I don’t think that Channel One is going to make much of difference either way.


Slithery D 04.15.04 at 9:38 pm

I can’t point you to research on the substitution effects, but in addition to lotter/school substitution effects you’ll want to look for charity/tax substitution. I’m certain there must be research on the latter.


John Quiggin 04.16.04 at 5:04 am

I forgot to record it, and it’s not strictly relevant, but I saw an article in the last couple of days claiming that people who give money to churches are less likely to turn up at services.

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