The exciting thing about Ameba TV is that it gives you access to children’s shows created by studios large and small all over the world, and all commercial-free. Meanwhile, those producers gain access to an audience and to revenue. And that can only be good in this time of consolidation, which has put control of children’s television into the hands of a very small group of large corporations.
As a result of consolidation, what shows get produced today on broadcast television? Primarily those with a merchandising tie-in, because the corporations that control broadcast television need to deliver profits to their shareholders. Even quality shows like Sesame Street have merchandising tie-ins. If you’re concerned about censorship, this is where censorhip is truly happening today.
The goal of the Ameba team is to provide parents with the largest library of children’s programming. It provides an alternative to what’s available on TV and on video.It’s similar to playing videos with no commercials, but you get lots of new shows, as on television. Ameba sent me their box to check out, and then I had a chat with the company’s CEO, Tony Havelka. He said it’s “amazing” what else is out there but isn’t being seen. For example, he points out that there are 175,000 Portuguese speaking people in the United States, who would be interested in Portuguese language children’s shows, but with no centralized market, a specialized channel doesn’t work on TV. Ameba has Portuguese language videos that can reach those people anywhere via the internet. Ameba pays the show’s rights holder each time someone rents a show, but doesn’t require the rights holder to sign any exclusivity contract, Mr. Havelka said.
The target audience for most of Ameba’s programs is children three to eight years old. There are some shows that may appeal to older kids. (My 11-year-old son enjoyed Einstenabot, which teaches multiplication facts to a beat.) Mr. Havelka notes that older children will want to watch more mainstream media and parental involvement starts to fade away at that point, and I agree. But he does intend to continue to expand the library to include material for older children.
How it works: You get the box in the mail. You go to your account online and select the videos you want to rent and then connect the box to your internet connection and the shows download. You can set up a separate profile for each child and put videos into each profile. Then you connect the box to your television. A very simple remote controller allows the child to select a show. First there is a preview, and then the child, or you, can decide whether to play the show. You don’t get charged until you actually watch the show, and then it’s a monthly rental fee, which ranges, from what I’ve seen, from about 10 cents to about a dollar.
Now here is where it does get to be some work for you, parents. Ameba isn’t pre-screening any of these shows – just adding them to the library to allow you the greatest possible choice. And the quality does vary. It will take some time before you find shows that are appropriate for your children. I downloaded some shows for my little 3- and 5-year-old nephews to watch while they were visiting me a few weeks ago, and one of the shows that we watched together used the word “idiot.” I explained to them that we don’t use that word, but alas, it did get repeated later. (“What did I tell you, D? You don’t say that to your brother.”)
It would be helpful if Ameba had a more advanced search process, as well as parent reviews. The selection process on line is tedious – you scroll through pages and pages of titles, then select one for more information. I would like to see Netflix-style search and review functionality. Mr. Havelka said that the company is working to get the programming done to allow better searching, as well as more communication among users. Even so, this is a wonderful opportunity to have access to all sorts of children’s programming and to support creative children’s media producers.