This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
By Larry Magid
My kids, now in there 20s, grew up in the VCR era. Back then, we would record “Sesame Street,” “Raffi” and other shows that they would watch over and over again whenever we let them watch TV. Unlike previous generations of parents, we weren’t chained to a broadcast schedule. We also bought videos and I recall watching the movie, “Follow That Bird” with them so often that I still remember some of the lines.
We had to remember to record our kids’ shows, and the selection was limited. Now parents of young children merely have to login to one of many steaming services or websites for 24/7 access to an incredible array of children’s movies and TV shows.
And kids don’t even have to be home to watch. In addition to being able to stream content to a TV using a Roku, Apple TV, game console or other media player, parents can sit their kids in front of laptops, tablets and even smartphones to watch from virtually anywhere, as long as there’s an Internet connection. For content that’s been downloaded, you don’t even need an Internet connection.
Netflix, which charges $7.99 a month for unlimited streaming, has a kids channel that includes “The Rescuers,” “Curious George,” “My Little Pony,” “Sesame Street” and countless other titles.
As part of a deal announced last week, Amazon’s Prime Instant video service will begin streaming children’s content from Viacom’s cable channels, including Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV and Comedy Central. Kids’ shows will include “Dora the Explorer,” “Blue’s Clues” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
The unlimited video service is included in Amazon’s $79 a year Prime service that also provides for free two-day shipping for most items purchased directly from Amazon. In addition, some of these shows will also be available in Amazon’s Amazon Kindle FreeTime Unlimited package that it offers to Kindle Fire users for $2.99 per month per child or $6.99 for a monthly family pass. Like Netflix, Amazon Prime can be streamed from personal computers, iPads and iPhones and Amazon Kindle Fire tablets. There is, so far, no Android app.
There is also content available for free. PBS Kids‘ website offers a number of videos, including “Clifford The Big Red Dog,” “Curious George,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” “Cat in the Hat” and, of course, “Sesame Street.” Kids can also watch PBS Kids content from an iPad or iPhone using the free PBS Kids Video App that features access to more than 1,000 videos from PBS Kids shows. PBS Kids also has a Roku app that allows you to watch shows on a home TV. (Disclosure: I serve, without compensation, on a PBS Kids advisory board).
Nickelodeon’s website has clips from some of its shows, as well as some free full episodes of “Power Rangers Megaforce” and other shows. There are commercials and you can’t skip through them as you can with personal video recorders.
If you know what to search for, you can find plenty of children’s content on YouTube, including shows from a very long time ago. If you search for “YouTube playlist,” you can find instructions for setting up a playlist for the kids to watch.
While streaming is a good choice for many families, there are other options, including downloading videos from iTunes. The bad part is that you’re likely to have to pay for some of the same content that you can stream for free on other services or websites. But once it’s been downloaded, your kids can watch it even if they don’t have Internet access. Unlike some commercial sites, it’s advertising free.
You can find children’s programming in the iTunes store by clicking the down arrow next to TV shows and selecting Kids. There is also a Kids and Family section under the Movies pull-down menu.
Another option is to record kids’ programs on a digital video recorder (DVR). You have to plan in advance but it’s easy to record favorite shows so they’re always available to view. Dish Network’s newest “Hopper” DVR offers the ability to transfer shows from the DVR to an iPad to watch from anywhere, even when you don’t have Internet access.
As with any form of children’s media, it’s important for parents to remain in control, especially with young children. Today’s streaming and download services are just as inappropriate as “electronic baby sitters” as was TV for previous generations. Parents still need to think about what their kids are watching, how much time they’re watching and what else they should be doing — like playing outside, reading or doing homework.
Also, as my wife Patti reminded me, there was a time when families looked forward to watching certain shows, whether they were Christmas specials, the occasional showings of “Wizard of Oz” or the regular weekly or daily broadcast of the kids’ favorite shows. I still remember the opening line of one popular show, where Buffalo Bob asked “Hey kids, what time is it?” The response from the children in the studio audience was, “It’s Howdy Doody time.” Now that could be any time.