Netflix is saving kids’ brains, one non-commercial break at a time

Want five or six extra days every year? Easy – choose streaming over network TV. Adults are sacrificing 130 hours, and kids 150 hours, to ads annually when they watch commercial programming. 


Research released by entertainment news site Exstreamist in 2016 shows that kids skip 150 hours of commercials every year by watching content on streaming services instead of regular television. On average, “children between the ages of 2 and 18 are spending an average of 1.8 hours a day using streaming services," they report. That's about 6 days worth of time per year they're getting back from services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

How did commercials reach their 6-day toll on us? The answer, as the L.A. Times reports, lies with television networks. Using numbers from ratings measurement firm Nielsen, networks are shoving more commercials into programs in order to make up for declining ratings and revenue, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). In 2015, networks aired an average of 15 minutes and 38 seconds of commercials every hour.

For comparison, “in 2009, the broadcast networks averaged 13 minutes and 25 seconds of commercial time per hour. In 2013, that figure grew to 14 minutes and 15 seconds." Cable news isn't any better, since, “in 2009, cable networks averaged 14 minutes and 27 seconds per hour," according to the L.A. Times. Networks are using more 15-second ad spots than 30-second ad spots, and some networks are even speeding up their programming in order to air more commercials, reports WSJ.

Children's programming is even worse. “Children view more than 40,000 commercials each year," according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Those commercials are loaded with ads for “sugary cereal, rot-your-teeth soda" and many other products that aren't particularly helpful, Exstreamist explains. Cognitively speaking, children don't understand the difference between commercials and television programs. The APA explains that “children below the ages of 4–5 years do not consistently distinguish program from commercial content, even when program/commercial separation devices ("GoBots will be back after these messages") are used…. [and] most children younger than 7–8 years of age do not recognize the persuasive intent of commercial appeals." So children can't easily tell the difference between fiction and reality or that the commercials are trying to sell them something. Since commercials are designed to influence consumer behavior, that's a problem.

Commercials can also demonstrate negative behavior that kids copy — again, because of their cognitive faculties, but also because they like trying new things. In a recent study of over 12,000 children's commercials, researchers at the University of Hartford discovered that about 12 percent of commercials featured disturbing or violent behaviors like threats of physical violence or accidents. Only 20 percent of commercials featured positive behaviors like sharing or helping. It's difficult to tell what direct effect those actions have, but given the impressionability of children featuring those behaviors at all seems suspect. Read the study yourself in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Granted, advertisers self-regulate commercial content so it's developmentally appropriate, but still: there's a lot of commercials with questionable content and they're targeted toward people who don't understand that they're being targeted.

No wonder people are flocking to streaming services.

The next time your kid wants to watch a show, opt for streaming services instead of broadcast TV. You'll save their time — and your money. “A Netflix subscription ends up paying for itself hundreds of times over if it prevents a few of those expensive toy purchases," as Exstreamist points out. Win-win!

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Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Lumina Foundation and Big Think have partnered to bring this entrepreneurial competition to life, and we hope you'll participate! We have narrowed down the competition to four finalists and will be announcing an audience's choice award and a judges' choice award in May.

The creator of the winning video — chosen by Big Think's audience, the Lumina Foundation, and an independent panel of experts (bios below) — will be flown to New York for a taping in the Big Think studio as a way to further promote their vision for a new, disruptive idea in post-secondary education.

Thank you to all of the contestants who spent time submitting applications, and best of luck to our final four competitors.

Finalist: Greater Commons - Todd McLeod

Greater Commons, founded by Todd McLeod and Andrew Cull, is an organization that helps people live happier, more successful and fulfilling lives through agile learning. The current education system is inefficient and exclusionary, in which many students who end up earning a degree, if at all, enter a career not related to their field of study. Greater Commons solves this problem and gap in post-high school secondary education in a variety of ways. Passionately and diligently, Great Commons helps others obtain skills, knowledge, wisdom, motivation, and inspiration so that they may live better lives.

Finalist: PeerFoward - Keith Frome

PeerForward is an organization dedicated to increasing the education and career success rates of students in low-income schools and communities by mobilizing the power of positive peer influence. PeerForward works with partner schools to select influential students as a part of a team, systemizing the "peer effect." Research in the fields of sociology of schools, social-emotional learning, adult-youth partnerships, and civic education demonstrates that students can have a positive effect on the academic outcomes of their peers. PeerForward is unique through its systemic solutions to post-secondary education.

Finalist: Cogniss - Leon Young

Cogniss combines technology and best practice knowledge to enable anyone to innovate and share solutions that advance lifelong learning. Cogniss is the only platform to integrate neuroscience, through which it solves the problem of access by providing a low-code platform that enables both developers and non-developers to build sophisticated education apps fast, and at a much lower cost. It addresses the uneven quality of edtech solutions by embedding research-based learning design into its software. App creators can choose from a rich set of artificial intelligence, game, social and data analytics, and gamification to build their perfect customized solution.

Finalist: Practera - Nikki James

Practera's mission is to create a world where everyone can learn through experience. Today's workplaces are increasingly dynamic and diverse, however, costly and time-consuming experiential learning is not always able to offer the right opportunities at scale. Many students graduate without developing the essential skills for their chosen career. Practera's team of educators and technologists see this problem as an opportunity to transform the educational experience landscape, through a CPL pedagogical framework and opportunities to apply students' strengths through active feedback.

Thank you to our judges!

Our expert judges are Lorna Davis, Dan Rosensweig, and Stuart Yasgur.

Lorna Davis is the Senior Advisor to Danone CEO and is a Global Ambassador for the B Corp movement. Lorna has now joined B-Lab, the non-for-profit that supports the B Corporation movement on an assignment to support the journey of large multi nationals on the path to using business as a force of good.

Dan Rosensweig joined Chegg in 2010 with a vision for transforming the popular textbook rental service into a leading provider of digital learning services for high school and college students. As Chairman and CEO of Chegg, Dan commits the company to fulfilling its mission of putting students first and helping them save time, save money and get smarter.

Stuart Yasgur leads Ashoka's Social Financial Services globally. At Ashoka, Stuart works with others to initiate efforts that have mobilized more than $500 million in funding for social entrepreneurs, engaged the G20 through the Toronto, Seoul and Los Cabos summits and helped form partnerships with leading financial institutions and corporations.

Again, thank you to our incredible expert judges.

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