Interactive TV shows for kids are the future

 

Bringing IT to bear on children’s TV is allowing the industry to be more creative when it comes to catering for younger audiences, writes CIARA O'BRIEN

THE FUTURE of entertainment for younger consumers is interactive.

With the rise in popularity of smartphone, tablets and motion controlled video games, the competition is tough for more traditional forms of entertainment for children.

But not content with innovating in games, as Microsoft and Sony are sizing up new markets.

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced it would begin offering a series of TV shows that children could interact with, and books that could allow them to bring stories to life.

Sesame Street and Nat Geo are already on board with the project, offering a series of shows that will bring learning to life. The Nat Geo content in particular is focusing on teaching children about wild animals and the environment in 30-minute episodes, with visual cues that indicate when interactive “sidetrack” content is available.

The Sesame Workshop Curriculum Team is also involved in Project Columbia, which allows children to interact with books in a new way, bringing words and illustrations to life.

The Playful Learning programme is part of a wider initiative trying to do with kids and families overall.

Dave McCarthy, general manager for Kinect Family Games with Xbox, said the plan was a deliberate move to broaden audience appeal.

“Kinect really opens up barriers to entry controller design presented to people on the past,” he said.

“A lightbulb went on that we could use Kinect to really immerse kids and families in different types of experiences – be it TV shows, story books, even simple toy-like experiences – and have this wonderful effect happen where kids are able to be physically active and act out some of the concepts being discussed via TV shows. There is a level of engagement that they can’t get through other means.”

There is a wealth of content out there that could be applied to the Playful Learning initiative, but it’s a tough market to design for, both in terms of delivering engaging content and the usability side of things.

“This is the hardest group in almost 20 years I’ve been in the industry to get it right for,” McCarthy said.

“I think that they have been incredibly short changed over the past couple of decades. Entertainment for that audience has not been treated as seriously as it should be by the entire market, generally speaking.

“They are a critical audience for us to get right. It’s such a formative stage in their lives.”

But Microsoft has competition.

At this year’s E3, Sony unveiled the Wonderbook.

The peripheral, which puts a physical book in your hand, works with augmented reality, PS Move and the PS3 console to bring books to life.

And for its first project, Sony has managed to get Harry Potter author JK Rowling on board. The book, entitled the Book of Spells, has original writing from the author, and teaches children how to cast spells, educates them on history of the fictional wizarding world and tasks players to complete puzzles and challenges.

It’s something Sony is excited about, pointing out the possibilities for wider applications.

“It isn’t limited to just stories,” president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Andrew house said.

“Imagine sailing the seven seas to explore an atlas; walking with dinosaurs; travelling beyond the stars to discover astronomy. Traditional reading experiences can take on a while new meaning.”

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