BabyFirstTV crawls its way to U.S.


Some people -- actually a whole lot of people -- thought the idea just too bizarre to ever get off the ground: A TV service for babies. Not toddlers or tweens -- babies from 0 to 3 years old.

Today, as BabyFirstTV goes from crawl to run in the U.S. after less than a year on air, the service is hurdling into the global marketplace in a push that includes a clearance for the entire Middle East.

Following its launch last spring in the U.S. on Dish Network and DirecTV, the baby channel went up this month in the U.K. on BSkyB's satellite platform as well as in Mexico with Sky Mexico and Cablevision Mexico and in Puerto Rico via Onelink.

In addition, BabyFirstTV has closed a distribution agreement with Showtime Arabia that will place the channel throughout "the entire Arab world," according to Sharon Rechter, executive vp business development and marketing for BabyFirstTV.

Rechter says the hardest sell of all was the first -- the U.S. "It was the toughest time because we were coming out with such a new concept in a leading world market. But we were able to finally convince the (cable/satellite) operators that we really do have a unique concept," she says. The service goes out on pay TV in the U.S. and is under license in the rest of the world markets.

Next month the baby TV service is heading for the first time to MIPTV in Cannes to expand sales operations worldwide. Rechter says numerous deals are pending and she expects to have at least 10 more international markets signed up by the end of the year.

So what is it about this new 0-3 demographic that has pay subscribers and advertisers sitting up and taking notice? Rechter says it's mostly all about the content, which has been very cleverly figured out by experts around the world.

Programming features original new content including the upcoming "Shushybye Baby" and other programs like "Rainbow Horse," "Sandman," and "I Can Sign" that help parents better understand the developmental benefits for their baby. The "Shushybye" series is one of the launch planks of the service worldwide and was created by L.A.-based public relations executive Steve Syatt.

"We are making early education fun and teaching babies about words and color and music in an intriguing way," Rechter adds. "And that's something that parents around the world are responding to."

The idea that TV is just plain bad for babies is still out there, admits Rechter, who was formerly vp and head of operations for the Israeli Network (an Israeli television channel in the U.S.).

"Parents are embracing it in an amazing manner, and I receive hundreds of e-mails daily about how much they love it. But with the medical community ... I think the more they are exposed to the uniqueness of BabyFirst the more they and the child educators actually believe that watching TV with your child can be a beneficial experience."

Rechter, a recent first-time mom herself, says she and baby are regular viewers.

Born in London, raised in Israel, schooled in South Africa and now residing in Los Angeles, Rechter believes that her background has also been a tremendous help in crossing so many cultural boundaries to reach out to parents across myriad cultures.

"When you have lived and worked in different countries and different cultures, you understand that not everybody is the same and that it helps to respect other cultures," she says. It's for that reason the baby television service insists on having child experts based all around the globe to advise on the programming content