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Baby TV Comes to Canada

Global National, 7/11/06

NEW YORK -- Escalating an already heated international debate, a first-of-its-kind TV channel designed specifically for babies is now available in parts of Canada, and parents are weighing the arguments against subscribing to the channel for their kids -- an age group some experts say should be kept away from televisions altogether.

The new, round-the-clock channel, is called Baby TV and is now available through Rogers Cable.

TV offerings are already abound for older toddlers, and a lucrative though controversial market has developed for baby-oriented videos, attracting the Walt Disney Co. and the makers of Sesame Street, among others. But until now there has been no ongoing TV programming aimed at infants.

"This is the first channel dedicated to babies and their parents transforming TV from its original purpose into a way for them to interact," said Sharon Rechter, a marketing executive for Baby TV's American operations, during the May 2006 unveiling in the U.S.

"The fact of life is that babies are already watching TV," she said. "That's why having (Baby TV) is so important -- what we want to offer is completely safe, commercial-free and appropriate content."

A 2003 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 68 percent of children under 2 watch TV or videos daily and 26 percent have a TV in their bedroom. Nonetheless, the pediatrics academy recommends that children of that age not be exposed to TV or videos, saying that learning to talk and play with others is much more important.

The academy's guidelines were cited in a complaint filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, challenging claims by leading makers of videos for babies that their products were educational.

Seattle-area pediatrician Donald Shifrin, chairman of the academy committee that studies television and children, urged parents to exercise prudence and to view the new TV options skeptically.

"Sesame Street has opened a Pandora's box by legitimizing the idea that TV needs to be developed for this demographic," Shifrin said. "We're not the nation's nanny, but we do want to provide a little balance we don't want to make TV the default entertainer for children."

Critics of TV for infants also are skeptical of assertions by Baby TV and other companies that their products are designed to be watched by babies and parents together in an interactive manner.

"Experience tells anyone that it's not going to be used that way," said Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston. "Parents use it to park their kids in front of the TV so they can get things done."

Rich said the companies "are basically letting parents off the hook from their guilt by saying, 'This is educational,' so parents can justify it to themselves."

Rechter said Baby TV is not claiming that its programs designed for viewers from 6 months to 3 years old will make babies smarter. "But having babies and parents interact helps children's development, and we give them that opportunity," she said.

Asked about the possibility that parents might simply use the new channel as a baby sitter, Rechter replied, "We could speculate as much as we like about what parents should do."

"If a baby is watching TV, let's put them in front of appropriate content," she said. "At the end of the day, parents make the decisions."

Baby TV's advisory board includes Dr. Edward McCabe, a pediatrician who is physician-in-chief at UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital.

"I was skeptical when I first heard about it," McCabe said. "But I became convinced that this is a major evolution in media for kids."


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