The first TV channel designed for babies debuted in the United States on Thursday, immediately drawing criticism from pediatricians who say young children shouldn't be watching TV at all.
BabyFirstTV is available via satellite from DirecTV at a cost of $9.99 US a month. It will not be available in Canada.
The channel is safe, commercial-free and has appropriate content for children under age two, said Sharon Rechter, BabyFirstTV's executive vice president for business development and marketing.
"This is the first channel dedicated to babies and their parents – transforming TV from its original purpose into a way for them to interact," she told the Associated Press.
Claim 'defies reason': doctor
But the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two should not watch television.
Dr. Michael Rich, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School who studies the impact of the media on children's health, says it "defies reason" to suggest that television could help parents and babies interact.
"Television primarily is a medium that demands attention to the TV, not to other people in the room," he said in an interview with CBC Television.
Babies' brains cannot decode the two-dimensional image on a television screen, Rich said. Their brains are developing and they need a different kind of stimulation to help them grow, he added.
"They need interaction with other human beings and to manipulate their environment. They need to pick up the block or try to get the Cheerios into the mouth," he said.
But Rich said it was inevitable that broadcasters would identify babies as a market niche to be exploited.
"The baby video market has been growing exponentially over the past few years. It was only a matter of time before someone decided they could broadcast directly to them," he said.
Offers programs from baby DVDs
BabyFirstTV's content includes some programs from baby DVD companies, including Brainy Baby and First Impressions. It also has an agreement with Sterling Publishing, a Barnes & Noble subsidiary, to use children's books in a Story Time program.
A 2003 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 68 per cent of children under two watch TV or videos daily and 26 per cent have a TV in their bedroom.
Rich said parents allow their very young children to watch television so they will be quiet and allow the adults to get things done.
"We are in love with TV in our culture and there is a sense that TV is benign," Rich said.
Rechter says the broadcaster cannot control how parents use the baby channel. However, if children under two are already watching, they ought to be viewing appropriate material, she said.
"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."
Spanish version in works
Rechter said BabyFirstTV will start with 250 hours of content, 80 per cent of it original. It plans to launch a Spanish-language channel by the end of the year.
The investors behind BabyFirstTV are:
- Regency Enterprises, a film and TV production company that is a partner of Fox Entertainment.
- Kardan N.V., an investment group based in the Netherlands and Israel.
- Bellco Capital, a private Los Angeles-based investment fund.