I admit it, I’ve used television as a babysitter. When I had my first baby, even taking a shower felt like an exercise in abandonment. I usually waited until my baby was taking her first nap before I’d attempt to transform myself from a zombie into a vaguely presentable human being who could venture outside without scaring people.
Then I discovered Baby Einstein. This is a brilliant business idea for middle-class parents with a guilt complex. I heard about the company from a friend, who passed one much-loved Baby Einstein DVD onto me. From the moment my daughter drooled over it (literally), I knew I found my solution to feeling like I couldn’t leave the living room without inflicting some sort of psychological trauma.
Yes, my daughter was watching TV and staring fixedly at the screen – apparently a no-no for children under 2 – but she was watching something EDUCATIONAL. The DVD was set to classical music and featured cute puppets. The producers were clearly tapping into her inner opera singer and she was learning about instruments, I told myself. There were some justifications, but I was sold on the first viewing.
The world’s gone to the dogs
The newest member of my family, Chloe, will be able to watch television specifically tailored to her, 24 hours a day. Chloe is our three-year-old rescue dog. Up until very recently, dog owners had to feel guilty about leaving their canine children alone in the house while they went to work all day. What would the dog do? Would she get bored and start eating the sofa? Would she try to get into the trash? Would she dig up the garden? Would she spend all day moping?
These are worries of the past, because a dedicated dog channel has been scientifically created for our furry, four-legged friends when they are left alone. According to the website, ‘DOGTV’s television programming meets a dog’s typical daily routine and helps prevent mental fatigue, depression and boredom.’
Saturday night and it’s just me, the dog and DOGTV
I try out DOGTV, which is free of ads, one Saturday night when I think Chloe is looking a bit subdued and possibly bored. There is an introduction to the programming, with a scientist (or maybe it was an actor) telling us about the great benefits of the channel, available on-demand all day. When the introduction finishes, the screen dims and a weird light show with sound effects starts up. Lights move across the screen and there is barking and noises. Chloe is still stubbornly lying on the sofa. She hasn’t even looked up.
The light show ends and we are entertained by two boys playing catch with a dog on the beach. This segues into a segment featuring attractive walkers who take dogs on rambles through different cities. I am getting hooked. I want to know where these cities are; some look quite good from a living point of view. Unfortunately, Chloe doesn’t share my enthusiasm. I try to get her to watch, but she just stares at me with a look of infinite displeasure. I think she is saying, ‘What the hell are you trying to do to me? Will you just leave me alone already?’
It’s getting late, but I want to see what comes next. There are bikers doing tricks in a park. After a minute or two, my mother and I figure out that the park is in San Diego. We are having fun. Chloe, on the other hand, isn’t amused. I decide she’s not in the mood. Perhaps she needs more privacy or maybe she will only tune in when she is feeling particularly desperate and lonely.
Dogs like harp music and SpongeBob cartoons
Two months into its San Diego launch, DOGTV has 6,500 likes on Facebook and a growing number of human fans. The 8-hour original content – developed by a group of Israeli television entrepreneurs – has used research from the animal behavior department at Tufts University. Researchers found that dogs apparently like harp music and SpongeBob SquarePants. There are also celebrity endorsements, such as from Victoria Stilwell, a renowned television dog trainer, and the CEO of the Humane Society in the United States.
The channel claims that many dogs ‘suffer from a lack of stimulation, which becomes acute when their parents are away. The stimulating segments provide dogs with invigorating images, animation and exciting real world sounds to keep them up and running’.
For now, DOGTV is free, but it will start charging $5 a month when it gets national distribution (expected soon). If dog owners are anything like proud parents, these entrepreneurs stand to make billions. (Watch out for it in the UK – it’ll probably get there one day.)
Although Chloe isn’t a fan yet, I could do with a bit of light entertainment when I am stuck in the house all day and feeling a tad depressed. It’s perfect when you are doing some light dusting. DOGTV could end up a cult hit – and not just with those who bark.
Would you watch it or put it on for your pets?