One of the fastest growing areas of communication studies is entertainment education. What do I mean by entertainment education? Essentially, intentional education that is a byproduct of entertainment. It is meant to be something educational that users want to consume for the sake of entertainment. Not something mildly entertaining a school teacher forces you to watch.
In 1969, the show Simplemente Maria, caused sky-rocketing in the sales of Singer sowing machines and enrollment in adult literacy classes in Peru after both were plot components that helped Maria better herself. Neither of these were intentional outcomes, but the connection between the show and positive behavior was so clear cut the study and refinement of entertainment education(EE) was born.
Humans are naturally drawn towards stories; telling them, hearing them and recording them are a natural part of our lives. It turns out we do a great deal of learning from them. A great deal of our world views comes not from lesson plans from a college instructor, but incidentally through the media we consume.
EE has been used successfully in HIV awareness campaigns, anti-domestic violence campaigns and a litany of other contexts. Recently, Hulu released an original series East Los High, to teach younger audiences about the dangers of unprotected sex, trials of teen pregnancy and the diversity of Mexican-American experiences and viewpoints in Los Angeles. However, if you just watched the pilot you would have no idea. The acting is good, the production value is clearly there, there is a surprising amount of sexualization for a show targeted towards middle and high schoolers. The point is that the show doesn’t come off as a clunky cheesy tribute to multiculturalism but an actual TV show that can compete with prime time television.
Today, for media makers interested in doing more than simply entertain, there is a litany of resources available. The CDC and USC both offer consulting to help include important educational messages and advice on how to best time and present a message so it has the maximum effect. There are lots of variables to consider and it is more complicated than just adding a couple of facts but there are a lot of people willing to help you if you bring the production skill to the table.