DirecTV Launches BabyFirstTV

New York -- A new premium service aimed at babies debuted on DirecTV Inc. Thursday, defending itself against the contention that infants shouldn’t be watching TV at all.

BabyFirstTV is not only offering linear programming for babies six months to three years, but it will also make available 15 hours of content for on-demand use, according to Sharon Rechter, one of the service’s founders and its executive vice president of business development and marketing.

Following a press conference here Thursday, Rechter said the network has deals with cable operators for launches later this year. The service’s affiliate sales are being handled by Hothouse Media, but it also hired some of its own staff, according to Rechter.

BabyFirstTV, priced at $9.99 per month, is being funded by Regency Enterprises, a production-company partnership of News Corp., which is one of DirecTV’s owners. The ad-free baby channel’s other backers are Kardan NV and Bellco Capital.

To kick off the service’s national rollout, DirecTV will offer it to subscribers free-of-charge for the month of May, to celebrate Mother’s Day.

The channel’s launch comes in the midst of an ongoing debate sparked by groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has voiced criticism of kids under two watching television at all. In fact, a complaint was recently filed with the Federal Trade Commission objecting to the characterization of videos for babies as educational.

Officials for BabyFirstTV and its advisory board of child experts addressed that controversy directly at their press conference. They cited research that found that 68% of children two and younger watch TV or videos each day.

“We can speculate all we like about what babies should be doing, could be doing, would be doing, but the fact of life is that babies are watching TV,” Rechter said.

BabyFirstTV is aiming to help babies and their parents bond and learn together.

It is debuting with 43 original series, with 80% of its content original, according to Rechter. The service is also offering content from poplar DVDs such as Brainy Baby and So Smart, as well as shows based on award-winning books from Sterling Publishing Co. Inc., which is owned by Barnes & Noble.