Pester power is king in the land of TV selection

Gone are the days of squabbling over who gets to watch their TV choice – the era of the multi-set household is upon us and, anyway, we are all slaves to the preferences of our children, as Jonathan Durden explains. Jonathan Durden is managing

The television has always been important to me. As a child I remember it as a precious daily treat. I can even vividly recall the various random trade test transmissions on the the experimental BBC2 – the Monte Carlo rally and the Zambesi dam are etched in my mind, albeit in grainy black and white.

At home, my influence over the buttons on my parents’ teak box was limited to Top of the Pops, the Avengers or Thunderbirds.

I sat through endless soaps, plays, news or family variety spectaculars because it was preferable to reading a book.

Today, in my household, the TV is no less important, but each family member has different expectations of it and is more empowered to reject something in favour of an alternative.

The set is no longer limited in number or location. Thirty-eight per cent of all UK homes have two sets, and 19 per cent own three or more.

Individuals can migrate to their own space to view their personal selection of programmes.

Husbands can slump in front of the screen to enjoy a constant visual diet of football on Sky, while wives can savour their favourite soaps in another room.

A majority of children now have TV sets in their bedrooms, to which they can retire if their viewing choices are overruled. Not that this seems to happen very often.

The ace card up kids’ sleeves is availability to view. Their willingness to watch television at times of maximum parental apathy, such as very early in the mornings or after school, is the viewing equivalent of Germans putting towels on sunloungers. After all, once they’re in the driving seat, so to speak, only a veritable churl of a parent would banish them to the portable in the bedroom.

Adults without kids may well be critical, and claim that parents these days are too indulgent towards their TV-viewing offspring. However, viewing evidence would suggest the contrary.

First of all, to combat a popular myth, young children watch far less TV on average than adults – approximately 17 hours a week, compared with 25 hours.

Secondly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to object to watching what the kids are watching anyway. With all the extra programming hours to fill that cable and satellite allow, broadcasters are transmitting everything that was dear to our hearts when we were kids (test transmissions aside) such as Tom and Jerry, Banana Splits, Scooby Doo, Top Cat and the Flintstones.

Who in their right mind would come in from work to find their kids watching Tom and Jerry in the lounge and demand to see Newsroom South-East rather than squeeze up to watch Tom suffering another fairly major dental trauma? It’s not the kids we’re indulging – it’s us.

With the timeless appeal of the animation classics which poured out from Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros and MGM it is no wonder that in satellite/cable homes nearly half of all young children’s viewing is of satellite channels, and 15 per cent is to the Cartoon Network alone.

It is our kids who enjoy the role of gate-keeper as they have control over the little black box. So, it isn’t Rupert Murdoch you should worry about, it’s the sticky-fingered child standing on the sofa next to you.


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