Shops are filling with Christmas goods, and advertisements are full of Christmas cheer. However, using television to reach children is becoming a complicated matter.

Children still enjoy ads and are influenced by them when deciding which presents they want, but their viewing patterns are more varied than they were a few years ago.

Three million children aged between four and 15 have access to satellite TV at home: that’s almost a third of all children in the UK. So for every child that can only be reached by GMTV, ITV or Channel 4, there is now a child that can divide its viewing across some 30 channels.

In addition, the amount of TV viewed by children has fallen fast. Compared with September 1992, viewing in the same month this year is down by almost 20 per cent, with that of the younger children falling faster than that of their older brothers and sisters. This is not to say they are using the TV less, but they are using it more for rented videos and video or computer games and less for passive viewing.

Overall, the satellite channels have fared better than their terrestrial rivals. In September 1992, they took a 37 per cent share of all children’s TV viewing; this year, their share has risen to 43 per cent.

Satellite TV did particularly well among four to nine-year-olds, whose total time spent viewing TV grew marginally across the years, whereas satellite’s share of their viewing soared from 39 per cent to 49 per cent.

The launch of the Disney Channel is likely to change this situation. In the last week of October, the satellite channels took 46 per cent of children’s viewing in satellite homes, and more than 50 per cent of the viewing of four to nine-year-olds. TNT and the Cartoon Network were well in the lead with a 12 per cent share, Nickelodeon took seven per cent and Sky One and Disney each had four per cent.

The Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Sky One are available in more than 90 per cent of satellite homes. Disney is only available in an estimated 60 per cent, but if it were received in all homes, its four per cent share would be much higher.

What were the favourite programmes? The top Disney shows for kids went out before school, the channel’s top programmes of the week being Rescue Rangers at 8am on Monday with an average audience of just over 100,000 children, followed at 8.30pm by Adventures in Wonderland with 120,000.

Both were topped by the perennial Tom & Jerry on The Cartoon Network, which pulled in well over 200,000 children at 9.30 on Sunday morning.

Clearly, there are specific programmes on satellite TV, with large child audiences, available to Christmas advertisers.

But equally clearly, reaching children is no longer as straightforward as it used to be: targeting children in satellite homes needs creative and careful time buying.

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