PBS Begins Testing Subscription-based, Ad-free Virtual World Aimed At Toddlers

PBS has entered the childrens’ virtual world space with its own subscription-based “online neighborhood.” Dubbed PBS Kids Play, the site is ad-free and is aimed at ages 3 to 6. It’s currently in beta. PBS is offering free trials and claims to offer a pre-school and kindergarten curriculum along with PBS characters such as Curious George and Bob the Builder. The free trails will end before spring.

Subscription fees are $9.95 a month, or $79 a year, while local PBS TV affiliates will be able to provide discounts or free access for donors, USAT reports. While charging for such web services are a new thing for PBS, which doesn’t run traditional ads on its network, it does feature messages from “sponsors.”

Since advertising and child-focused websites have become a combustible mix lately – witness the uproar over virtual world/stuff animal marketer Webkinz recent ad moves – and it makes sense for PBS to go in that direction. Lesli Rotenberg, PBS Kids’ SVP, assures USAT that parents will find paying directly for online content much more acceptable than buying CD-ROMs or other educational products, especially since PBS Kids Play is so personalized. The timing of the site’s release, which has been in the works for the past year, comes on the heels of a report called D Is for Digital (PDF) by Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Among the report’s suggestions, was that educators needed to catch up and offer more virtual world tools. Release