Parental controls have been built into most television and cable set-top boxes for the last decade, allowing parents to limit their children's viewing to shows that have certain ratings as assigned by the networks. TiVo as well had a parental control system based on these ratings. Many digital cable boxes offer even more options, letting parents select individual programs to block.
But Tom Rogers, TiVo's chief executive, said existing technology and ratings had been rarely used because both the software and the ratings were too difficult to understand.
"Ratings have had a marginal effect because parents don't fully understand how to use them," Rogers said. "Nor do they bring forward what they want their kids to watch."
TiVo has been hard hit by cable and satellite companies that are selling set-top boxes with video recorders built in, and its share price is off about 30 percent since last July. So the company is focusing on software that will. Another feature under development will let users share lists of their favorite shows with their friends.
The move on children's viewing comes at a time of. Several large deemed appropriate for children.
Under the TiVo plan, parents will be able to designate ratings issued by one of two groups--Common Sense Media or the Parents Television Council.
Common Sense Media was formed in 2003 with backers including Charles R. Schwab, the brokerage company executive, and Philip F. Anschutz, the billionaire investor; the Parents Television Council, formed in 1995, is headed by L. Brent Bozell III, a conservative commentator.
The new TiVo service will let children watch only programs the designated group deems appropriate for the age range specified by the parent. In addition, parents can automatically record programs designated by the groups as especially worthwhile.
Parents can overrule the groups' choices or make their own list of approved and banned programs from scratch. They will also be able to type in a password to view programs denied to their children.
TiVo's software, called KidZone, will be made available without additional charge in June to the 1.4 million users of TiVo's stand-alone set-top boxes.
It will not be offered to the 2.6 million users of DirecTV boxes that also include TiVo recorders, because DirecTV has largely stopped selling them.
TiVo has typically charged $200 and up for its recorders, depending on capacity, and $12.95 for the service required to make the box work. It has recently been experimenting with deep discounts on the boxes or even giving the boxes free to customers who pay a higher monthly fee.
Even with its new feature, one issue that children's groups have been concerned about--advertising aimed at the young--will have to be addressed manually. The new service does not automatically edit out commercials.
Rogers said the company did not want to alienate the television networks.