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Internet

Kids' Web sites spring up on Net

Seems like everyone has got a site for kids these days. Today two very different companies, PBS and Merrill Lynch, launch edutainment sites for children.

    Walt Disney Company's announcement of an online children's service Monday will shake up a burgeoning market, but it's hardly the only game in town.

    PBS is betting that the popularity of their children's programming will rub off with the relaunch its Web site today. The site now includes five channels, or "neighborhoods," including PBS KIDS, for kids ages 2 to 12, which totes well-known PBS's children's show characters.

    Features include "Elmo Minds the Farm," a storybook featuring Elmo from Sesame Street; Kids Karaoke, which lets kids sing PBS theme songs, while the lyrics appear on their computer screen; and other links to program Web sites like Mister Rogers Neighborhood, and Where is Carmen Sandiego?. Kids can also contribute stories, poems, pictures, and games to an area called "Babble On."

    Also launched today is Merrill Lynch's Family Saving Center . The site targets parents and kids as a place to learn about saving, budgeting, planning, and investing. The site has interactive games and lessons on saving. One section aimed at directly kids, is the "Save Lab," where kids can get plan savings goals for their families, add their own saving tips to the site.

    Entertainment giant Viacom is ramping up its efforts, too. The company soon plans to launch a Web site at www.nick.com to augment its popular content on America Online's Kids Only channel. This month on the Web, Nickelodeon also launched "Natalie's Traveling Web Show," an online diary detailing a 12-year-old's ubiquitous view from the back seat of the family stationwagon.

    Another children's Web site, Noodle Kidoodle, launched today. It is a joint venture with Computer Associates International. Designed for children, parents, and teachers, the site offers learning tools and games, as well as links to other educational Web sites such as NASA's homepage and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    All these sites will be vying for dominance in a small but growing market. According to a Jupiter Communications study, revenues for the children's online market will remain small through the end of this year. All children's Internet content must do battle with America Online, which currently generates an average of 500,000 usage hours a month with its Kids Only channel, and enjoys a reputation as a safe haven for young Web surfers, with easy filters that parents can set.

    Despite these obstacles, there is a hefty motivation for all sites aimed at children: money. By the end of 2002, Jupiter Communications projects revenues of $1.8 billion from the children's online market, up from $306 million this year.