So while I got everybody all lathered up yesterday over TiVo’s announcement of an announcement, today news is breaking that the big news from TiVo does not have anything to do with Series 3 TiVos, or HDTV, or a subscription only pricing plan, or a sexy new partnership. Instead the news turns out to be a new initiative by TiVo called KidZone, which promises to “give parents powerful combination of expert guidance with unprecedented control.” Cool, it’s like DRM for your kids right?
Well like some others my initial reaction was one of disappointment. I mean, parental controls? Ugh!
But then last night after I went to bed and this morning I started thinking more seriously about KidZone and my initial opinion has changed quite a bit. So today my reaction is this. Hot Donkey! TiVo is doing something super, super important.
Why has my opinion changed so much? Well first of all let’s put things in perspective. TiVo is about TV. VOD is still just TV. HDTV is still just TV (did I actually say that?) TV, while hugely important, is nowhere near as important as our kids. How many of us get lost and distracted watching TV or blogging or screwing around on Netflix or installing the latest version of Media Center while we leave our kids to their own devices watching whatever happens to be on the Cartoon Network at any given time.
Kids watch too much TV. My kids watch too much TV. But if they are going to watch TV at least let’s make sure that they are watching something somewhat educational as opposed to more junk food for the brain.
My wife and I actually have almost come to blows over this very topic. My policy on what our four young children can watch has been quite restrictive. PBS Kids and that’s it (good morning sproutlet)… well and sometimes Noggin which has a lot of the same type of programming. My wife on the other hand has a more lax view about what the kids watch and is quick to remind me that as she spends more time with them that her opinion should count more. She is perfectly fine with Scooby Doo and the Flintstones and the rest of what Cartoon Network serves up. Perhaps a middle ground of a broader line up of programming, yet still from trusted sources, might be just the thing we need.
And how could what our kids consume, what molds their precious little minds, not be more important than all of that less relevant stuff like VOD, HDTV, etc. Seriously. So while in some ways, this “big” TiVo announcement in my mind has become even bigger. But more than bigger it’s important, truly important.
Now a lot more research needs to go into today’s announcement but here are the basics from TiVo:
“TiVo KidZone offers a first-of-its-kind solution, provides parents expert guidance and easy set-up to help them find and choose the television programming that is most appropriate for their family based on the individual needs and values of their household. As part of this initiative, TiVo is partnering with leading parenting and family groups including Common Sense Media and the Parents Television Council, the two largest grass roots organizations, with 4 million members between them, to create entire menus of recommended programming automatically provided right to the television set. Moreover, a child is able to use the television set to enjoy these selections and other parent-approved programming, while parents can still use the TiVo service to automatically record their viewing selections and enjoy their favorites when they are ready to watch. In doing so, TiVo is offering the first real answer to the 50 year-old question of how to create the ideal television environment for kids in their own homes.”
Of course I don’t know anything about who Common Sense Media or the Parents Television Council are (are they conservative, liberal, etc.) and a big part of the appeal of this program will be how good the actual watchdogs of kids TV are, but at least it’s a start and it sounds like you will be able to customize and tweak the watchdog recommendations a bit as well.
More from TiVo: “TiVo KidZone represents a significant advancement over technologies such as the V-Chip deployed in many television sets in homes today. The V-Chip, which uses industry ratings on children’s programming to enable parents to block certain channels and programs has had its impact limited by the complicated nature through which it is deployed in a home television set. Moreover, while the V-Chip was designed to block certain programming, it does nothing to pro-actively help parents find and record the very best television programming for their children.”
Now aside from the fact that TiVo is doing something super good and super important to potentially shape the minds of our kids, this new initiative also makes a lot of business sense as well. I’ve always felt that one of the biggest markets for TiVo is parents. As a parent myself I will tell you this. It is next to impossible to watch live TV. Any show, movie, etc., that follows some kind of plot line is just not watchable with kids needing your attention while they are awake. And while the kids are sleeping, you are on your own time table. If you happen to put your kids to bed at 8:15pm, who wants to pick up on that 8:00pm scheduled show 15 minutes into it. TiVo is a life saver for parents and adds more value for parents than probably any other demographic.
Despite the fact that TiVo also will market to singles periodically (yes, they deserve our love too) parents are a huge and lucrative market. By having a compelling distinguishing offering from parents vs. generic freebie cable and satellite DVRs, this give TiVo a great marketing message to go after parents with and I suspect will help them sell more TiVo units.
Two final points on today’s announcement.
1. I almost titled this post “DirecTV Hates Kids” instead of “TiVo’s “Big” News May be Bigger Than We All Even Realize.” It totally sucks that this service will not be available on DirecTV TiVos. The fact that DirecTV does not have a conscience enough to try and do something that is truly good for our children is pathetic and they should be derided for not allowing this technology on their boxes. Now I don’t have all the facts and it could be TiVo themselves are holding this back from DirecTV, but it really sucks that I will not be able to use this service on my HDTV DirecTV TiVo. I would like to see it clarified why this will not be available on a DirecTV TiVo. Whose decision was this?
2. I would encourage TiVo to push the envelope with this initiative and do something revolutionary that would no doubt enrage Madison Ave. (with whom they have a new love affair with which is why I doubt you will ever see this, but it is still the right thing to do). I would challenge TiVo to turn on a feature in kids mode that automatically fast forwards commercials. I know this is what got Replay sued out of existence but for kids this is in fact something very important.
It is a tragedy that our children are marketed to by peddlers of fast food, junk snack food, McDonalds, toy stores and the like. There is an epic obesity problem with the American youth of today and personally I think marketers who bombard these kids with candy commercials all day long bear the
most blame. Yes, it would be controversial to offer a feature like this. Yes, it would no doubt piss off Madison Ave. But is not allowing us to use the TiVo technology to do something really really responsible the right thing to do? Much has been written about this problem and while parents and adults may not think twice to zap ads, young children typically do not zap ads and they sit there mesmerized by them. And while McDonalds continues to try and push their way into our kids impressionable consciousness and create customers for life, as a society we are much worse off for it.
The food marketers are the new tobacco companies of today and TiVo should empower all of us as parents to blot them out. It would be controversial, but if TiVo was sued over it they would generate a tremendous amount of support from parents, youth advocates, politicians and most likely the courts. These commercials are perhaps the biggest reason why I insist (at least when I’m in charge of them) that my kids only watch commercial free PBSKids.
It would be nice to see TiVo do the right thing here with their technology in conjunction to their new KidZone initiative.
More info on the service from the TiVo Blog.
Update: A PR spokesperson for TiVo has answered my question regarding why this innovative new initiative is not available on DirecTV boxes by stating, “DirecTV makes the decisions regarding which TiVo features are included in the DirecTV interface.”
Also, TiVo’s E. Stephen Mack (a new father himself) blogs about the service here.