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TiVo upgrades TV's baby-sitter functionality

TiVo upgrades TV's baby-sitter functionality

TiVo will soon be offering a new feature called KidZone that will allow parents to more easily control their children's TV viewing, according to a story in today's New York Times. The KidZone function is said to allow parents to choose one of two "family-friendly" programming lists provided by Common Sense Media or the Parents Television Council. With KidZone, TiVo is hoping to create a parental control system that's easier to use than the so-called V-chip. The V-chip allows users to filter their TV and cable box programming by ratings--blocking out shows or movies rated TV-MA or TV-14, for instance. It's been available in all TV, cable, and satellite boxes for years, but despite big ad campaigns from content providers, it remains largely unused. Not only will KidZone prevent the wee ones from watching Nip/Tuck, 24, and South Park, it stays locked into its kid-friendly mode until it's deactivated by an adult. The functionality will be available as an automatic update to TiVo's software in June at no additional charge, according to the Times.

The official announcement hasn't yet happened (an 11 a.m ET press event is scheduled at New York's Museum of TV and Radio), but TiVo stole its own thunder by leaking to the Times. It's just as well, though; the KidZone feature may be welcome by parents, but it's utterly underwhelming to TiVo fans who have been waiting anxiously for the company to upgrade its aging Series2 line. You could sense the anticipation when word of the announcement hit the Web yesterday ("TiVo is hosting a press conference to discuss important new developments"). The company will be giving away its boxes and moving to a subscription-only model! The Series 3 HD TiVo is going to be officially announced! You can download any movie you want from Netflix on your TiVo! Alas, just hours later, the KidZone rumor was already being floated ( scooped the Gray Lady by a good several hours, as near as I can tell), and the disappointment among TiVo-ans was as palpable as it was for Apple fans earlier this week.

CEO Tom Rodgers has already confirmed that Comcast customers should be able to seamlessly upgrade their existing DVRs to TiVo-ized versions by the end of the year. More details on TiVo's 2006 plans may be forthcoming next week, when the company conducts its quarterly earnings conference call. I certainly hope so--because that single-tuner, analog-only Series2 box is really beginning to show its age.

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