first analysis reports that children ages 2–11 years viewed a total of 22,000 advertisements for all products in 1977 versus 23,530 in 2004 (Ippolito, 2005). These figures include paid advertisements, which decreased from 20,000 in 1977 to 17,507 in 2004, and promotional advertisements and public service announcements (PSAs), which increased from 2,000 in 1977 to 6,023 in 2004 (Ippolito, 2005).10 The second analysis is also based on Nielsen Media Research data and measured total food, beverage, and restaurant commercials viewed per child from 1993 to 2004 (Collier Shannon Scott and Georgetown Economic Services, 2005b). This unpublished analysis reports that the number of food and beverage advertisements seen by children in programs where children are at least half the audience declined approximately 13 percent over this period.

Advertising on television overall has been about 11.5 minutes per hour since the mid-1980s (Cobb-Walgren, 1990). An industrywide survey conducted by MindShare, a widely recognized advertising firm, confirms that the level remained virtually unchanged in 2001, with an average of 11 minutes and 24 seconds per hour devoted to commercial messages (Downey, 2002). Thus, the data reviewed strongly support that U.S. children and youth are currently exposed to a large amount of commercial advertising on television.

For several reasons, it is difficult to identify with precision the total amount of time children are exposed to television advertising. There are both age-related and individual differences in the relative mix of programming types and times that children may view, as well as variability in the amount of commercial content presented across channel types, program genres, and times of day. There is also a lack of clarity about the precise amount of time currently devoted to advertising on children’s programming. One study in the 1970s measured the time as approximately 12 minutes per hour (Barcus, 1981), but a study in the late 1980s measured only 8.3 minutes per hour (Condry and Scheibe, 1989). Although the FCC regulations of commercial programming through the Children’s Television Act of 1990 provide maximum limits, there is some indication that the FCC’s policies are not always followed. For example, in 2004, the FCC fined Nickelodeon $1 million for violating the per-hour time limit 591 times for

10  

The major broadcast networks (e.g., ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) donate an average of 17 seconds an hour to PSAs out of an average of 17 minutes and 38 seconds an hour of nonprogramming content. This represents a total of 48 minutes per week per network. In 2001, the Advertising Council estimated that it received nearly $400 million in donated online advertising space (Rideout and Hoff, 2002). Industry estimates of PSA expenditures are higher. In 2003, U.S. advertisers report spending more than $1.7 billion on PSAs—$1.6 billion for television and $100 million for cable networks (Brown et al., 2004).



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