Holy restrictions, Batman! Let’s take a reasoned view of children’s iTV!

So the new FCC boss, Julius Genachowski, thinks there should be restrictions on interactive programming aimed at children. I agree; there’s no reason to let kids run wild with a remote control. I disagree, though, with the idea that some sort of uber parental opt-in device is needed to save the children and their parents from themselves. That’s, unfortunately, the type of overkill that maims and destroys new ideas such as interactive TV before they even get off the ground.

According to published reports, Genachowski is advocating the prohibition of interactive advertising without said parental opt-in “protecting kids from inappropriate commercialization” and that “interactive ads directed at children are off-limits without an opt-in by parents.”

I agree. There is no way that a nine-year-old should be able to buy a $649 electric Hummer just by pressing a couple buttons on the remote. On the other hand, that’s a pretty stupid example in the first place because it would be stupid for any kind of advertiser to give a nine-year-old that kind of power without parental verification. It’s like buying cigarettes; the kids might still think it’s cool but the sales agent knows it’s not a good idea if they’re under 18.

The nice thing about interactivity is that it’s a smart technology that’s able to identify and flag the underage buyer. One of my colleagues, no doubt trying to be more clever than he’s ever actually been, suggested that any sort of ubiquitous parental opt-in would be a blanket ban that would throw the baby out with the bathwater. Besides being clichéd, there are no babies, I don’t care how smart, who would be ordering toys online from their baths, unless they were rubber duckies and they probably have those already.

Seriously, though, the problem of kids having access to in inappropriate content for sale has been addressed and answered by the computer. Kids can type in all they want; the right controls handled by the service provider and/or applications provider and accepted by the advertiser prevent them from getting what they want without a parent’s involvement. Works now on the Web and interactive TV is just as smart, maybe more so, than the Web.

Interactive TV for children has so much potential it worries me anytime someone makes even the slightest suggestion of controlling it. Television, even with the growth of a generation of computer savvy youngsters, is still the entertainment medium of choice for children. Making that medium more interactive, more educational and, frankly, more user-friendly is not a bad thing … it’s a good thing, for the children and for television itself.

The new FCC chairman is on my side with this. He’s stated that “digital television will provide new and beneficial economic opportunities to broadcasters.” I’ll take that even a step further and say those benefits will also naturally accrue to cable operators and programmers and interactive TV providers such as ActiveVideo. We’re all in agreement on that.

We’re even in agreement when he says that the FCC should re-examine the 1990 Children’s Television Act “in light of the current marketplace and technologies” because there have been a number of advancements in the space in the last 20 years. As Homer Simpson would say in a program that might or might not be appropriate for kids, “Doh!

The thing is, examining the best way to deliver interactive television to children should not include any kind of blanket restrictions. In other words, Julius, “Don’t have a cow, man.”

-- Edgar Villalpando, SVP Marketing, ActiveVideo Networks