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TiVo, PTC, Common Sense Detail KidZone

Personal-video-recorder manufacturer TiVo released details Thursday of a new programming service aimed at delivering quality programming to children.
The service, called “TiVo KidZone,” will incorporate children’s programming recommendations from advocacy groups Common Sense Media and the Parents Television Council while also giving parents the ability to block out other programming they deem offensive.
Parents can fine-tune the “KidZone” electronic program guide to meet their children’s age and their own programming choices, and access to the KidZone settings is protected by a parental password.
Software for KidZone, which will available as a free feature on TiVo “Series2” units, is still under development, but the service is expected to be available in June.

TiVo CEO Tom Rogers said that KidZone should offer viewers a big improvement over cable operators’ initial “family tier” offerings, which block offensive programming from the home but also limit viewing options for adults (in their defense, cable operators say they need to completely block offensive channels from the home to ensure that crafty kids don’t bypass the set-top to watch racy fare offered on broadcast and basic cable networks).  

“This is not about blocking shows, this is about finding the best shows,” says Rogers, who thinks the KidZone functionality will be a selling point as TiVo continues its efforts to license its software for use in cable set-tops. While DirecTV has incorporated TiVo functionality into its set-tops in the past, it has discontinued that relationship with TiVo and those existing “Series 1” boxes won’t support the KidZone service.

Tim Winter, executive director of the Parents Television Council and a former NBC colleague of Rogers, says the programming selections from PTV and Common Sense Media that KidZone will offer will be far more useful to parents than the existing TV ratings system, which he says is hard to understand and woefully inaccurate. “With TiVo KidZone, broadcasters cannot hide behind the sham that the TV ratings system is,” says Winter.

Susan Sachs, COO of Common Sense Media, adds that parents find the existing options for filtering children’s programming, such as the V-Chip and digital cable’s electronic program guides (EPGs), difficult to use. KidZone should be more effective, as “TiVo is known for its great user interface.” Sachs adds that her group is currently in discussions with cable operators Time Warner and Comcast about providing similar “family friendly” programming information for use in their program guides.

“Putting it in the EPG is just a development issue,” she says.

Rogers says that TiVo had yet to discuss KidZone with broadcast and cable networks. Jim Dyke, executive director of the network-back ratings group TV Watch, said, regarding KidZone, that TV Watch will “applaud any effort that gives parents more information about what’s on TV and particularly any effort that gives more control to individuals and not the government.” 

“New technology like the DVR gives individuals more opportunities to customize what they see on TV and can be a good complement for parents looking to manage what their children watch,” adds Dyke. “But there is no substitute for parents reviewing a program rating, checking out a program and deciding on their own what’s right for their family.”