Tending Tots With Tivo

When adults buy digital video recorders like TiVo or ReplayTV, they hope to avoid missing favorite shows like "The West Wing" or "The Sopranos." But some families are discovering that the devices have another great use: to manage and limit their kids' viewing. "That's a huge part of the appeal," says Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff. TiVo data show that 19.7 percent of its users have a Season Pass (which automatically records every episode) on at least one kids' show. "Blue's Clues" is being recorded nearly as much as "The Drew Carey Show"; the most TiVoed kids' show, "Justice League," trumps prime-time newcomers "Fastlane" and "Presidio Med." Bernoff says DVRs may prevent his kids' generation (they're 4 and 7) from turning into channel surfers. "My children think TV means you sit down and see a list of stuff that's been recorded for you," Bernoff says. "You're making a conscious choice on what to watch, and when you're done with what you've chosen, the default is not to sit there and watch what comes on next."

DVRs are still in only 1.5 million homes, but prices are falling and manufacturers expect brisk holiday sales. ReplayTV has begun touting its commercial-skipping feature as great for parents concerned about toy-crazed kids. Children's media advocates see the devices as an improvement over existing parental-control technology. "All the V chip does is block what you don't want," says David Kleeman of the American Center for Children and Media. "With [a DVR], you can pick the best programs for your children's age group from all the different channels." Even the fiercest critics of America's TV habit see the devices as a potentially useful tool. "To the extent that parents might use something like TiVo to limit the amount of time kids spend with TV and to control what they're watching, to move away from the model of plop-the-kid-in-front-of-TV-for-four-hours, that's probably progress," says Frank Vespe of the TV Turnoff Network.