When Idaho Public Television throws the switch Thursday, Feb. 1, it will launch its Idaho Kids Channel with a roster of stars, including Arthur, Daniel Tiger, Wordgirl, Clifford the Big Red Dog, the Cat in the Hat and the citizens of Sesame Street, along with the brother and sister team Pinkalicious and Peterrific, a new PBS show.
"The idea of an all-kids channel goes back quite a while," said IPTV General Manager Ron Pisaneschi. "We've got some amazing numbers of viewers for our children's programming on our main channel, but there's new data that indicates children watch television in significant amounts on weekends and in the evening."
On its main platform, the Idaho Channel, IdahoPTV programming includes Austin City Limits, Idaho Reports, Antiques Roadshow, Masterpiece, The Great British Baking Show and dozens of other extremely popular programs targeted at adults. But a number of viewers in that demographic are parents of small children, and they face a real challenge many weeknights.
"I know it's a pejorative term, but talk to a parent, and 'the arsenic hour' is a real thing," said Pisaneschi.
The "arsenic hour" is a period of time in the evening when babies and young children go from calm to cranky in a heartbeat, while parents are valiantly trying to get dinner on the table or get their youngsters ready for bed.
"Quite frankly, most of the shows on television at the arsenic hour are news programs or other things that would be inappropriate," said Pisaneschi. "The beauty of this new channel is it's 24/7. Maybe there's a child who is sick or in the hospital, and we're here. Mornings? Of course, we're here. Evenings, weekends? We're here, and we're here with not only appropriate programs, but valuable programs."
Launching a new channel—this will be the fifth for IPTV—is a formidable task, especially considering the necessity of investing in new infrastructure.
"We stood before the Idaho Legislature a year ago telling them about our plan and our need for new equipment," said Pisaneschi. He explained that the channel requires new encoders and multiplexers to broadcast a new digital signal across the state. "Basically, we got a quarter of a million dollars for the infrastructure. For the record, the legislature only approves funding for equipment, not programming."
Fortunately, four founding sponsors—CapEd Credit Union, Albertsons, the Idaho College Savings Program and the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation High Five initiative—have made year-long commitments to help fund operating and programming costs for the Idaho Kids Channel.
Then there's the tricky business of negotiating with dozens of different cable companies across Idaho to get the Idaho Kids Channel included in their lineups.
"It's our expectation that we'll be on most, if not all, of the cable companies' slates of channels," said Pisaneschi. "There are the big ones like Cable One, but there are a lot of mom-and-pop cable companies in small communities in Idaho. If you don't have cable, you'll still be able to see all of the Idaho Public Television channels, including the [Idaho] Kids Channel, via your antenna. We'll ask that you re-scan your digital signal on February 1, and you should be good to go."
Along with being on the air, the new Idaho Kids Channel will also have an online and streaming presence.
"Sure, you can have the broadcast, but when Mom says, 'It's time to go to the store or the library,' it's the new normal to grab a tablet so the kids can continue watching their favorite show," said Pisaneschi, who for years served on the PBS Children's Advisory Committee.
"What's the difference from when I began and today? Well, there are so many new shows now, but it's still about telling good stories. There a lot of new things being developed, but quite frankly, there will always be the legacy shows like Sesame Street that will be part of our lives forever. A lot of very dedicated people are working really hard to make our new kids channel happen, but there is absolutely no downside to any of this. This is a win, win, win."