Best Childrens’ TV You’ve Never Seen: Ameba TV

Dec. 2, 2011 Heard of  Ameba TV yet?

For world-weary parents of kids aged 2-12 who’d like to allow media in moderation but are sick of monitoring cruddy channels of influence being served up by ‘big media’ monetization and merchandising models 24/7, Ameba TV’s multi-platform subscriber service is an exhale and a welcome gift. (for about the cost of a flippin’ Frappuccino it’s an affordable one– $3.99/mo)

When Disney, Nickelodeon and all the biggies are pumping out ‘tween’ dating for 8-12 year olds, and hottie,  frenemie sass with some pretty toxic social norming in the behavioral realm, I think it’s fabulous to see the excitement building among indie content producers ready to backlash with POSITIVE content and healthier appeal!

Ameba TV  is a commercial-free, award-winning kids content hub with an indie edge that appeals to those of us who like creative CHOICES, instead of 500+ cable channels that serve up similar tonality and  formula fare.

For many, it’s an opportunity to take back TV on your own terms and “occupy your living room” with quality choices instead of giving in with a shoulder shrug to the crass commercialization of childhood leaving big media to call all the shots. Viva la revolution!

Similar to the way the music industry shifted from pop station radio dominance to new media models emerging with customizable programming (Last.FM, Rdo, Grooveshark,  Pandora, Spotify, I Heart Radio, et al) listeners are tailoring content to their own needs, whether web streaming, subscription or hybrid variations.  So why not TV?

Internet radio and TV are emerging media force fields with identity conundrums,  lumped into fuzzy catchall categories that don’t fit any one pure answer to “what is it?”

Multi-platform is a mouthful and makes it sound like media is ‘always on,’ coming out your ears, when in fact many are using it to filter OUT noise  in favor of customizable, personal programming choices…but that’s what it’s called when media crosses over into lots of variations and distribution channels to serve content into devices from mobile to set top, living room to laptop. Clunky, but accurate.

Ameba TV is a classic case of “what is it” branding, since it began as it’s  own commercial-free  ‘set top box’ (and is on Roku’s device) and is now refined to simplicity without gizmos. Streaming on the web and now with the newly announced partnership with LG’s Smart TV platform (and soon Google TV etc) has morphed the niche Canadian company from being an alternative family friendly ‘kids product’ to a universally accessible kids entertainment pioneer…The ‘viewer supported’ subscription model is supplemental for some, and a “free at last” cable-ditching replacement alternative for others, particularly green, ‘eco-families’ who may choose to raise kids with a non-consumption, commercial-free focus, but appreciate media’s positive kids content too.

Since AmebaTV no longer requires ANY additional ‘device’ for viewing a massive library of over 2000+ hours of healthier content for kids, the company has quickly evolved from a “parental controls”  perception to a universally accessible, robust “on demand” solution with streaming at the ready…turnkey ease. 

Like their prescient name, Ameba TV has changed size, scope and multiplied with quality partnerships, adapting into a new shape organically that can slide out of the media box to evolve with fresh content on a global scale.

(Wired News recently called Ameba a “Kid-Friendly AppleTV/Netflix Alternative”—and just a year earlier “Geek Dad Blog”  described it as a combo of cable & Tivo for kids —What a difference a year makes in media morphs! See what I mean by ‘how do you wrap your head around it’ in terms of defining media that’s changing by the nanosecond?)

As you can tell, I welcome new platforms that have the potential to disrupt (even shatter?) current media models in American TV because in my view the channels of influence need changing, and the system is badly broken.

Many of us agree TV is in dire need of a media monetization makeover…Even amidst a boomtown in digital media our ‘mass programming’ preferences have narrowed not expanded, after all, it doesn’t COST as much to produce ‘RealityTV’ drek.

With vapid values aplenty, the “profit above all” media model has splashed us into a sea of mind pollution with cheap, prolific offerings which can be lousy yet still ‘pull the numbers’ since they don’t have to compete with “real” ratings due to the copious quantities served up as a numbers game…

And don’t even get me started about the haywire ethical compass that goes sproing with RealityTV producers taking ZERO consideration of the long-term socio-emotional health impact on kids or societal influences. Bleh.

Ameba TV offers some of the bilingual versions of quality shows from PBS Kids TV like The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That (screen capture above shows an example of their web viewing format in their ‘freebies’ section) which is great because frankly, even “the GOOD stuff” in public broadcasting is broken when it comes to offering diversity of content because everything hinges on “show me the money.”

My favorite, PBS Kids educational TV   is now so ‘commercial’ and profit-driven with blurred boundaries it rivals private commercial programming. Public broadcasting is forced to work within ridiculously surreal models of ‘merchandising’ to sustain quality content, where viewing is now a licensed character fest of Clifford, Elmo and crew.

Last thing we need with public TV is pester power for plushies and licensed toys and goods with the same fervor as commercial kids TV…(yah, it’s ‘educational’ but I long for the clear lines of demarcation of yesteryear before childhood was for sale as a ‘marketing opportunity.’) But there you have it. That’s  how far we’ve fallen into the money pit…

As a former writer/producer, I can’t help but ponder the number of innovative, wildly amusing, cutting edge creative learning shows that will never make it to an air date simply because they’re not ‘merchandisable’… seems EXTREMELY broken to me. (not to mention kids’ classics–would Mr. Rogers have ever even aired?)

Clearly I’m enthusiastic about the vast potential of digital media to yield fresh horizons to diversify, splinter and expand with new content platforms like GoogleTV, AppleTV, Ameba TV’s childrens’ channels giving voice to more meaningful media alternatives.

As the kids would say, “bring it.”

Hopefully the emergence of a platform like Ameba TV with full series, animation and music shows will also entice more indie kids TV producers from all over the world to find a global home for their quality content beyond film festival shorts and the web…Go Ameba!

I hope the subscription model racks up users as a popular alternative and that their try-n-buy flat fee “freemium” model (one week free trial,$3.99/mo) sets a precedent for others.

Commercial free, quality shows specifically for ages 2-12 without cringe-worthy crud seeping into psyches?

That’s a ‘value add’ especially in this economy when several families are ditching pricey cable bills altogether and struggling to limit media intake with mindfulness…

At a cost less than movie theatre popcorn ($3.99-more like an app on iTunes) Ameba TV offers an entire MONTH of unlimited, positive picks to choose from that finally give parents curated content venturing FAR beyond the niche preschool or homeschool edu crowd.

Of course I’d like to see inspiring minds collaborate toward using these new broadcasting platforms and distribution channels as a business bump not only to elevate kids’ quality and shows with some prosocial good overtones, but to prompt big media players to pay attention to that market demand.

(Long term, I wish we’d see integration of platforms like Ameba as starter hubs for unique pilot programs, with channels of kids content becoming sustainable categories in themselves–prosocial, animals, STEM, etc fundable in IndieGoGo or Kickstarter mode…but I have a vested interest in ideas like thatas you can see by my Project Raceway green teen eco challenge, and these other youth eco challenger finalists in the first ever Green University taking place this weekend!)

For now, I think AmebaTV offers a solid service to parents who DO allow SOME ‘passive viewing’ but just want a break from the hyper-vigilant game of ‘redlight/greenlight’ TV content…

…Or better luck after scouring Netflix for something to plop in the queue that’s remotely apropos or edu-friendly for kids.

As pediatric MD Dimitri Christakis is so often quoted lately in studies and journals, it’s not about eliminating media, it’s about engaging in “harm reduction approaches,”  minimizing negative impact through age appropriate pacing and content and curbing excessive use.

Ameba TV speaks to that messaging beautifully.

As David Kleeman, President of the American Center for Children and Media points out in The Monolith Myth“not all screens and not all content are created equal” —I agree.

I’d even extend that thought to remind that interactive screen time and action-based media movement (e.g. apps, Wii exergaming, learning etc) don’t lump into one blanket “screen” statement universally either…it’s comparing apples and armadillos.

That said, returning readers are well aware of my bias toward active play, outdoor fun, and imaginative discovery (particularly in the early years) over even THE coolest bells-n-whistles in media…

…So please view this post as the moderation message intended, not as a carte blanche “couch potato for quality content” swap.

The AAP has reiterated the integral need for free play and discovery for babies and toddlers with no passive screen time under two at all…

Again, I’m not an ‘absolutist’ kind of gal, I vote for common sense, but support the AAP policy fully because when reputable orgs like the AAP slide age parameters it can slip into a muddy quagmire of perceived endorsement…

I’ve seen household habits shift from “needing a shower” or “making dinner” into using TV as a plop-n-drop ‘electronic pacifier’ just because the content is apropos or perceived as ‘educational.’  Back to Ameba…(zing! see this is what happens with too much media, partial distraction and attention goes sideways, “squirrel!”) 

Ameba TV’s animation is rich content, and there are definitely some familiar ‘faces’ (Rainbow Fish, Raggs, Sid the Science Kid, etc) but I think one of the first things that struck me about the uniqueness of the kids content was the representation of REAL kids’ faces in the shows.

It was a surreal ‘aha that’s what’s missing in mainstream media’ moment seeing multi-ethnic diversity, lead characters cast sans stereotypes, and color lines that reflected culture without striving to mirror it in token faux-diversity, Hollywood style.

As the new film documentary Miss Representation brings to light with piercing precision (post forthcoming) kids NEED to “see themselves” through media —It frames their worldview, and their place in it…

I think that point alone would ‘sell me’ on forking over four bucks for a full library of that one subtle, meaningful message…

I’d also like to shoutout Ameba’s refreshingly welcome positive picks  in the ‘tweens’ demographics of ages 8-12 where they’re sorely needed…

Shows like  teen detective Ruby Skye PI,  and Timeblazers which dips  back into history, and Worlds of Wonder with kids as globetrotters criss-crossing continents on eco-missions of discovery is the kind of kids programming that reinstills a sense of active adventure and ‘get out and DO it’ thinking versus primp in the mirror ‘don’t get the hair mussed’ appearance focus of mass media.

I consider the “tweens” 8-12 demographic to be TV’s MOST vapid wasteland,  chock full of age-compression beauty cues, growing up too soon, and gender stereotypes for kids ad infinitum. (so cue wild applause for Ameba content here!)

I also like that they’re offerings span from goofy, performance style music shows to “recipes kids can do” in shows like French Kitchen (a DIFFERENT kind of ‘reality show’ with young Savannah French and her veteran chef grandma Susan cookin up some fun) Along these lines, I hope they continue to add content from indie producers making headway in the healthy lifestyle category, as I could see a whole slew of potential here…(a kids’ internet TV food channel?)

Even our own Shaping Youth counter-marketing games could find a home here, along with pilot series that I adore like our friends at  DOOF (food backwards.com tracing where food comes from so kids get involved in what’s on their plate and in their bod early on). They’re  hoping for a ‘greenlight’ on their show in the PBS sphere someday (cough, plushie carrots anyone? sigh) Ameba seems like it could be a logical distribution channel in the interim to seed more funding/exposure…

Admittedly, Ameba TV doesn’t pretend to be ‘all educational’ by any means but I’m impressed with some of the shows seeding STEM curiosity within the next generation…

Shows like Jim Henson’s Sid the Science Kid, or Dive, Olly Dive or Einsteinabot, the world’s first singing robot puppet or the antics of the Engineer Guy  clearly make STEM enthusiasts smile using media to amp up innovation.

Again, along these STEM meets discovery and adventure plotlines, one of the new pilots for a TV series that I’ve just previewed and loved called the Know Better Effect, could easily find a home on Ameba to gain traction for a wider audience…(it’s a prosocial media mashup I’ll be writing about soon)

The Know Better Effect has the power and potential to blend series style scripted drama with volunteering, philanthropy and making change in the real world…(right now they’re using a CD/purchase model, intending to donate 10% back to the orgs featured in the shows)

It’s a perfect fit to showcase on Ameba (quality and message) as is the new CBBC kids documentary series in development called “Show Me What You’re Made Of” intended to challenge a kid’s perceptions of the world to make them think differently about what they see and buy…(interview in the works coming soon here on Shaping Youth!)

After the internet TV food channel, how about a ‘positive change/social good’ entity? Anyway, you see my point…just as ‘listener supported’ and customizable radio has taken hold to cherrypick based on personal preference, TV is shifting to a menu-based smorgasbord of ‘if you liked this you might try that’ subscription samplings too…

Like other subscription models for meaningful media that matters (e.g. our friends at New Moon Girls magazine/online  community for tweens, which comes out to about $2.91/mo=$34.95/yr, 30 days free trial) Ameba has given me an affordable gift idea to share with green tweens, STEM enthusiasts, the mindful media parent posse, early childhood educators, and others looking to turn this tanker around toward healthier worldviews for kids…($3.99/mo w/zero commitment? Comcast sure can’t give me that)

And Ameba?

Please continue to morph, multiply, and spread this more positive cell structure to gel into something tangible that those of us who care about quality messaging in kids content can count on.

Comments

  1. Amy,
    Thank you so much for this amazing, in-depth review of Ameba! For parents looking to “cut the cord” or to simply offer more CHOICE for their kids – be it indie shows, quirky classics, music programming or multilingual shows, Ameba has much to offer. I happen to think they are at the forefront of what will hopefully be a children’s programming revolution, with more and more independent producers being able to go straight to Internet TV and connect with their core subscribers – without having to stop at the commercial/merchandizing/drek way points along the way.

  2. I really like Ameba, like Allison I hope it can offer new independent producer a chance to create and expose some great new children programs.

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