New Net Caters to Infants

New York— A new premium service aimed at babies came into the world last week on DirecTV Inc., defending itself against the contention that infants and toddlers shouldn’t be watching TV at all.

Premium service BabyFirstTV is not only offering linear programming for babies 6 months to 3 years old, but will also make available about 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.

BabyFirstTV aims to offer babies and parents a chance to bond and learn together. Eighty percent of its content, including 43 series, is original, according to Rechter. The service is also offering content from popular DVD producers such as Brainy Baby and So Smart, as well as shows based on award-winning books from Sterling Publishing, which is owned by Barnes & Noble.

But the service is venturing into territory that networks such as PBS Kids Sprout, a preschool channel and video-on-demand service whose backers include Comcast Corp., have already established a beachhead in.

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

Priced at $9.99 a month, BabyFirstTV is being funded by Regency Enterprises, a production company partnership of News Corp., 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 for free for the month of May, to celebrate Mother’s Day.

The channel’s launch comes amidst the ongoing debate sparked by groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has voiced criticism about allowing kids under two to watch television.

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

“The fact of life is that babies are watching TV,” Rechter said.

A member of BabyFirstTV’s advisory board, Dr. Edward McCabe, said he was a member of the AAP and understood why the academy might say that TV is harmful to babies.

“I would urge the AAP to revisit their position,” he said. “BabyFirstTV is a significant breakthrough, and I would like to ask my friends in the AAP to look at this as a new product with a new approach to good parenting.”