In 2014 watching television remained a preferred activity for many New Zealand children despite the challenge offered by computer gaming, internet film site YouTube and social media. Children’s viewing has been contentious since television was first shown in New Zealand. In 2014 vigorous debate continued over the effect of television on children. Some parents limited their children’s television viewing, but many other children had unfettered access.
Out of mischief or pale little things?
People viewing an experimental television show in 1954 had opposing views of its impact on children. Some thought it ‘wonderful entertainment’ that would keep children dry and out of mischief on wet days. Others believed it would be too attractive – ‘they’d never be out of the house and would grow up pale, little things, knowing nothing about sport’.1
Children’s shows were screened from television’s first days – Lassie and Robin Hood were shown from 1960 and Crusader rabbit (a cartoon) from 1961, and Judy-Anne and the puppet snake Fergie Fang appeared on Children’s corner in 1962. A mix of local and imported programmes continued to be shown, in a range of programming that included music and game shows in addition to cartoons, drama series and magazine shows.
Some programming was family fare – it was often a shared activity to watch a Sunday night locally made ‘family drama’ serial. Outstanding examples include; Hunter’s gold (1976), Children of Fire Mountain (1979), Under the mountain (1981), The fire-raiser (1986) and Kaitangata twitch (2010).
Programming for preschool and early-primary-school children included a New Zealand version of the British show Play school, Spot on (1974–89) and How’s that? (1979), which became What now? (1981–).
In a commercially driven environment, children’s television with restrictions on advertising was dependent on public funding. TVNZ6, a dedicated non-commercial children’s and family channel, lasted from 2007 until 2011, when its funding ceased. Children’s channels on pay TV had a high level of imported content – one study found there was more United States-sourced programming on New Zealand channels than on those in the US itself.
In the 2010s children began to move between television and computer, visiting TV show websites that encouraged interaction. Popular children’s shows, including the long-running What now? and Sticky TV, were watched, interacted with via their websites and tweeted about by children as young as eight.