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July 17, 2011

Online Video Service Targets Infants

by Ted Landphair

Developers say they've found a way for babies use computers

These days it seems like American television and videos have us in their clutches from cradle to grave.

On the "grave" side, the Home Box Office cable-TV show "Six Feet Under," about a family-owned funeral home, ran for six years and still airs in reruns.

There’s a current reality-TV program about a funeral-home family, too, not to mention a host of shows about forensic experts’ inspections of dead bodies.  

On the other end of life's spectrum, there have been plenty of shows for kids ever since television debuted in the 1940s.  Kids - five, six, 10 years old.

But the extreme has been reached with a new online service just for babies.  “BabyFirst” is not about babies. It’s for wee ones, six months, a year, two years old.  Instead of just listening to Mom or Dad sing a lullaby or goo-gooing at a dangling fish above their cribs, infants can watch videos made just for them.  

The shows, with titles such as “Elephant Dress-Up” and “Shapes with Peek-a-Boo,” are commercial-free, though parents who are watching with their babies are invited to buy products at a store on the site.  

According to its homepage, “Baby First’s top child development experts have invented a way for babies and toddlers to use the computer themselves.”  

As the service’s executives point out, babies are already watching TV.  About two-thirds of American children under two watch something on the tube every day from their parents' laps or their playpens.

Some baby doctors have objected to the baby-video idea.  Even the most imaginative shows are no substitute for human interaction, say the pediatricians.  They worry that the channel can become a cheap baby-sitter, or that some parents may bombard their tiny tots with hour after hour of shows in an effort to make them smarter.  

That's ironic, because we're always hearing how dumb we’re becoming, watching so much TV.