Objective: To describe how DVDs designed for very young children are constructed, focusing on the formal production features used to present the program content.
Design: Descriptive study of the concentrations of perceptually salient, nonsalient, and reflective formal features.
Participants: Fifty-nine DVDs designed for children younger than 3 years. Main Exposure The presence and absence of specific formal features.
Outcome measures: Concentrations of reflective (singing, rhyming, camera zooms, and moderate character action), perceptually salient (rapid pacing, fast action, camera cuts, sound effects, character vocalizations, and visual special effects), and nonsalient (low-action sequences, narration, and dialogue by men, women, or children) formal features.
Results: Programs were composed of high concentrations of perceptually salient features, such as rapid pace and camera cuts, which are difficult even for older children to understand. Reflective features, which provide opportunities to rehearse content, were relatively rare. Character action was typically nonsalient. The DVDs used speech only 24% of the time and failed to selectively use speakers, such as choosing a child over an adult for dialogue and narration, which garners slightly older children's visual attention.
Conclusions: Producers who claim that their programs are educational should pay more attention to how they transmit content. Most programs directed at infants and toddlers rely on perceptually salient features like rapid pacing and camera cuts, which may elicit attention and interest but are most likely very difficult for a young audience to understand.