Some parents will be relieved. Others may threaten to disconnect their cable-TV service for good.
Juicebox is a new music-video channel playing a non-stop selection of Justin Bieber, Cody Simpson and other tween-oriented acts deemed kid-appropriate. Geared to 8- to 13-year-olds, the new channel debuted in November under the umbrella of Bell Media’s Much and MTV stations and features a continual rotation of puppy love and innocent partying.
Juicebox’s programmers choose from the current crop of tween clips, relying partly on such standards as the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ code of ethics on violence and sexuality. Then a volunteer group of 15 parents further vets the videos. Every clip that passes then goes back to Juicebox programmers, who decide the final play list.
“It’s a fun, safe environment,” says Neil Staite, vice-president and general manager of music and entertainment at Bell Media.
Of course, guarding against gratuitous violence or excessive skin is subjective, Staite adds, hence the reason for establishing the parent committee. But what about videos that seem menacing or excessively foreboding? Where does Juicebox draw the line?
“As a parent, you look at it and you go, ‘Would I want my child watching that music video?’ And that really is the guideline that we use. We ensure that we get approval by the parents. And if there are questions that come up, then we discuss them within the group,” says Staite, who has children of his own in Juicebox’s target age bracket.
The station also uses an assortment of animated graphics and animal logos, lending it more of a kids’ feel than typical music-video networks. Yet the final test comes down to the video selection.
“Some of them are really easy [to judge] You look at it and you go, ‘There’s no problem with that.’ And then you have some music videos that might use the word ‘stupid’ in them. In some households, words like that are unacceptable,” Staite says.
Deciding what’s acceptable is tough when the artist is someone popular with kids like, say, Katy Perry. In one video she may be shooting canned whipped cream from a halter top in the video for California Gurls. Yet another video of hers could be acceptable to Juicebox, Staite says.
“Katy Perry is an interesting example,” says Heidi Vlahantones, who works in sales at Bell Media and is on Juicebox’s parent committee. A favourite video of her eight-year-old daughter is Perry’s Firework, which shows mini fireworks popping from Perry’s chest, but also people in trouble and in pain. It hints at domestic fighting between parents, a mugging and a woman giving birth. And despite its dark lighting, it tries to be highly celebratory.
Vlahantones asked her daughter why she liked the video. “And she said that Katy Perry brought all this hope to people that looked like they were struggling. And I was like, ‘Wow, you’re eight years old,’ ” Vlahantones says. “For me, I think that there’s great messaging in videos.”
The channel is the new format for Punch Much, which started in 2005 as an all-request channel. Viewers could vote on which videos would be played by sending text messages to the network. In our digital world, that was eons ago, when texting was still a new thing. Now, with YouTube and Vevo providing easy access to videos and eating away the traditional music-video market, the Punch Much concept has become old hat. Juicebox is Vevo with a parental filter.
Won’t some parents object? Won’t the people who consider an education in Beethoven and the Beatles crucially important have a problem with Bieber hamming and Selena Gomez’s pitch-corrected, Auto-Tuned voice? Isn’t Juicebox going to drive those parents crazy?
“Mm-hmm, yeah, it will,” Staite says with a laugh.
Still, Bieber and Gomez are staples of today’s commercial tween culture. They reflect our times. To deny a child access is to deny a certain aspect of collective knowledge – one that gets drilled into children’s consciousness over and over.
“It’s a very niche, very tight playlist,” Staite notes. “We recognize that the audience that would watch Juicebox can watch the same thing a million times. And if they love it, they want to see it again. The repeat factor is very different for a Much Music audience.”
“You can listen to Justin Bieber every hour,” he adds, “and for the audience that would watch Juicebox, that’s a good thing.” Even if it makes some parents cringe.