WASHINGTON — With the debut of “Sesame Street” in 1969, PBS became the place for parents to go to for quality educational programming for their children.
So many top-shelf children’s series have made their bow on PBS since then that the broadcaster doesn’t have enough hours in the day to schedule all the kids’ fare against its public-affairs programming and prime-time lineup.
The solution to this conundrum became apparent in millions of TV homes Jan. 16: PBS Kids, a 24-hour subchannel already appearing on 73 PBS affiliates. TV households. In a few months, 107 stations in all will carry PBS Kids, enough to cover 90 percent of the country.
On April 21, by which time the additional affiliates will have come on board, PBS Kids will debut a “Family Night,” consisting of weekly family viewing events featuring movie specials or themed programming every Friday from 7 to 9 p.m., and repeating on Saturday and Sunday evenings. “Odd Squad,” “Sesame Street,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” “Wild Kratts,” and “Arthur” movie events already are in the works.
In truth, with nearly five decades of “Sesame Street,” one could feature an all-“Sesame Street” channel without too much objection from parents — or their kids, if they’re of a certain age. Fortunately, there are 20 other series that mark the launch of PBS Kids.
Among them are tween competition show “Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman”; the math and strategy cartoon “Cyberchase”; the self-explanatory cartoon “Sid the Science Kid”; and “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That,” based on Dr. Seuss’ beloved children’s book with Martin Short voicing the title role.
One of my personal favorites is “WordGirl,” which not only expands children’s vocabulary skills, but offers sly appeal to grown-ups in the tradition of some of the best cartoons, like “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” with top talent as guest voices.
PBS, when unveiling the channel in mid-January, said it would continue to offer PBS Kids programming on its primary PBS channel during the day and on weekends, but offer different programs on the PBS Kids subchannel to give children and their families another option during the kids’ programming block.
Not near a TV? The channel also will be available as a live stream on pbskids.org and on the free PBS Kids video app for mobile and tablet devices, It’s been downloaded 16.4 million times and totaled 4.2 billion streams in 2016, according to a PBS announcement.
However, live TV is the dominant way children access video, with most of kids’ TV viewing taking place on weeknights and weekends, according to the Nielsen ratings research organization. While this is true for all children, Nielsen said, it’s especially the case for those in low-income families, who, PBS says, make up a significant percentage of its audience.
While TV stations are required to air three hours each week of educational or informational programming for children — you can look for the “E/I” designation in one corner of the screen for shows given that designation — PBS Kids will air 168 hours of E/I programming each week. That means 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there will be nothing but E/I shows airing.
A Marketing & Research Resources survey of 1,002 adults conducted via phone in January found that PBS Kids ranked first in school readiness among children’s TV networks, with 81 percent of parents saying PBS Kids helps a lot or somewhat.
Where I live, there are three distinct PBS affiliates within reach of my antenna. The Washington PBS affiliate replaced its non-high definition feed of what it was already airing on its original channel with PBS Kids. Maryland Public Television, which carries uniform programming across the state, dropped a commercial-free Spanish-language channel to carry PBS Kids.
The third station, based in northern Virginia, already has its own kids channel culling from the same vast PBS programming treasury featured on PBS Kids.