by Edwin L. Carpenter – Associate Editor, The Dove Foundation
BabyFirstTV is the first network in the U.S. for children under three years old. The network features rich, innovative and educational content that is designed to introduce babies and toddlers to a variety of skills from language to math to music in a delightful and engaging way. The program features interactive subtitles and other features to provide parents with another tool to bond, learn and play with their baby. Leading child psychology and education experts support the effort and the program airs without commercials, violence, and without over-sensory stimulants.
Sharon Rechter is one of the founders of the channel and the Business Development and Marketing manager for BabyFirstTV, and she spoke recently with The Dove Foundation about her background, and about how she became involved with the program.
“I’m at the age where all my friends are having babies. I used to head an ethnic network on EchoStar before I did this, and one day a friend of mine came over and she had one baby, two bottles, three diapers, and five baby DVDs with her. I asked her, ‘What are these?’ She said to me, with a straight face, ‘They make my child smarter.’ So I said, ‘How do you know they make your child smarter?’ She said, ‘What do you mean, it’s on the box!’ So I said to myself two things: ‘One, my friend is not as bright as she seems. And two, that’s a very interesting concept.’”
“So then my partner, Guy Oranim and I, investigated it because we thought that was a very interesting concept to look at. We found out that the baby DVD market in the U.S. is a 1.5 billion dollar market. The average household has about seven baby DVDs, and they cost $14 to $22 each–the brand name ones. What we found to be more interesting is that these DVDs are completely unsupervised. To give you an example, we could take my baby daughter and video taped her at the zoo, add some classical music, and claim it’s educational. So there’s absolutely no supervision. We thought that was horrible because babies were put in front of programming which claimed to be educational but was without supervision.”
“So then we came up with the idea to offer parents and cable and satellite operators a service which offers hundreds of hours of programming, tailor made for the needs of babies, completely supervised by leading experts from the fields of child psychology, for less than the price of a single baby DVD. That was the initial idea, but then we came across the fact that there were a lot of parents out there who were really looking for ways to interact with their baby, but they don’t know what a one-year-old understands. So they need tools. We created two very unique tools on BabyFirstTV that helped parents better interact with their children.”
“One of them is parenting subtitles. So, for example, when you see a red ball bouncing on the screen it would say to the parent, ‘Ask your baby what color is the ball.’ And by that we get the parent involved. I think there’s no dispute that children develop by interaction with their parents. And we give them another tool to do that, and if I may quote one of our viewers, she said, ‘It’s just like reading a book with my child but more engaging.’ The second thing we did was come up with our logo. It’s a colorful flower. Each color represents one aspect of the things we’re teaching. The color purplish blue represents numbers. So when you see a show on BabyFirstTV the entire logo will be one color, so if it’s blue it says to Mom or Dad, ‘We are now teaching numbers.’”
Sharon said the results are fairly amazing. A survey they conducted amongst their subscribers showed that 82% of the parents said they used the parenting subtitles to interact with their child. To confirm the results, the programmers asked the parents to rate the programming they liked and the programming their child likes separately. If the answers had been the same, this would have showed the parents were not really watching. But the answers were indeed quite different which supported the survey which stated that parents are watching the channel and interacting with their child/children.
Dove asked Sharon how many channels they are on and who they are reaching out there in the world of television. “We started domestically,” she said. “It is an American channel but the buzz around it was so huge that we’re now available in a very large distribution around the world. In the United States we’re available mainly on Dish Network, and on DirecTV. They have over twenty seven million households together. It’s available on channel 293 on DirecTV and 126 on Dish Network. “I believe we’re the only independent channel in the last ten years that launched on both Dish Network and DirecTV. We’re also available on selected markets of Comcast and we have a signed deal with Charter and AT&T who is now starting to offer TV services. So that is over 50% of the TV households in America.”
“Totally around the world we’re available to 68 million households. We’re available as a basic channel in the UK. By being in Mexico and the entire Arab world believe it or not the American BabyFirstTV channel is airing in Iraq! And we’re proud of it. And we’re expecting an additional ten international markets in the next six months. It makes my mother proud!” Sharon joked.
On a serious note, when we asked about the programming being available on DVD, Sharon said, “I got an e-mail from a mother of an eight-month old baby in Boston. The baby suffered from cancer. He got cancer when he was three months old. She said to us that BabyFirstTV was the only thing that calmed him down. ‘But now we’re going into the hospital and I don’t know what to do—I can’t take BabyFirstTV with me. Is there anything you can help me with?’ So there is only one child in the entire world who has a full library of BabyFirstTV on DVD.”
Sharon said due to that incident and an overwhelming demand on their website, they have just launched two DVDs. “The first one is our best-selling show. We teach babies how to sign because babies can communicate via their hands before they can actually speak. So if the baby can tell his mom that he’s hungry or thirsty, we solve a lot of frustrations for both sides. And Mom can really understand that the baby is getting this from BabyFirstTV. That’s a parent favorite and that’s why we’re now issuing that on a DVD.”
Sharon said (based on the Kaiser family foundation report) that 30% of babies have a TV set in their rooms in the United States. So the second DVD they have offered is night-time programming which is very soothing. It includes kaleidoscopes and fish swimming in a tank with classical music. “It’s a ‘Help put your Baby to Sleep’ DVD” said Sharon. Sharon shared a funny anecdote and said that about three months ago the service shut down momentarily at DirecTV at 2 am and they received hundreds of calls from parents saying they needed their BabyFirstTV!
She said they have an advisory board at BabyFirstTV that consists of “the best of the best in child educational TV.” Dr. Edward McCabe who heads the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, and is President of the Pediatrics Society in the United States, serves on this board as does Dr. Arthur Pober, who is the Chief Educational Advisor. Dr. Pober is involved from the creative beginnings to the actual airing of the programs. He writes the curriculum. He chooses what is appropriate for the children and what is not, the right colors, what kind of music can be used and he directs the creative teams and supervises the programming team.
In closing, Sharon said they started the network with two people and one laptop in a one bedroom apartment. “So, the start-up stories with the pizza—they’re all true!” she kidded. They now have 65 people and they appreciate how far the channel has come. She is happy they cleared the hurdles of people who wondered if children should watch TV at all, and why BabyFirstTV was different than the programming already airing. “We were able to convince cable operators that there is a market out there,” she said. “And those parents feel the TV channels out there don’t cater to the needs of babies.” She is also proud of the fact the network is commercial free.
The BabyFirstTV website can be found at www.BabyFirstTV.com. Thanks to visionaries such as Sharon Rechter and Guy Oranim, BabyFirstTv is now reaching millions of viewers.
Dove Reviews of BabyFirstTv’s “Rainbow Dreams” and “I Can Sign” are coming soon