Positive and Negative Content in Commercials Airing on Nine Television Channels

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We examined the content of commercials airing on 9 general TV channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox, WB, CNN, MTV, and ESPN) and investigated whether channel, time of day, and program rating were predictors of the rates of positive and negative content. The rate of negative content for the 9,571 commercials airing on the general channels (13.7%) was significantly less than the rate of positive content (20.2%) and not unlike the rate of negative content for the 2,433 commercials airing on 3 children’s channels (Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Nickelodeon; 14.8%). Commercials airing on the general channels included significantly more positive content than commercials airing on the children’s channels (15.7%). Commercials airing on ABC and NBC and during TV-Y programs were more likely to include positive content and less likely to include negative content, whereas commercials airing on MTV and during TV-14 programs were more likely to include negative content. Overall, time of day was not a significant predictor of the content of the commercials, and only the L label was suggestive of negative content in commercials. Clinicians should educate parents about the negative content in commercials and advocate for greater parity between the televised programs and the corresponding commercials.

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