Ameba: Kid-Friendly Apple TV/Netflix Alternative

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We receive many requests for product reviews at GeekDad and sometimes things pile up. This is one of those cases for me, a trail that began over a year ago (a rep was at a conference where I speaking on a panel), leading to an ongoing conversation, then periodic peeking at the product and a continuing e-mail thread, but the actual review kept getting sidetracked for one reason or another. I finally had the opportunity to spend some time with Ameba and I think it’s a service that GeekDad readers might be interested in.

Ameba TV's web interfaceAmeba TV's web interface

Amebatv.com

The first question is, what is Ameba? Basically, this is a streaming video service that’s aimed squarely at parents of young children. The target demographic is stated to be ages 1 to 16, although I would say that most programming currently skews toward the lower end to middle of that range. The content is commercial-free, age-appropriate and chosen to be active and engaging. Although Ameba is based in Canada, content is sourced from all over the world and ranges from short minute and a half snippets to near hour long episodes. You won’t find Star Wars: The Clone Wars episodes on Ameba (although there is a wide range of animated programming) or movies, but you will find interesting TV shows designed to pique your kids’ curiosity. For example: Engineer Guy, A World of Wonders, Timeblazers, Einsteinabot and a throwback from my childhood, Hinterland Who’s Who (a series of wildlife shorts that used to run on Canadian television).

If this sounds like Netflix, AppleTV or other streaming services, there are a number of factors that make Ameba unique.

For one, the content is solely aimed at children. As founder Tony Havelka points out: “For most of the streaming services, children’s content is just a genre. For Ameba it is our business.” A parent is required to set up an account and to choose content to be made available, but once that’s done, the UI is bright, colorful and kid-friendly. The parental account gives the capability of filtering content by age range, language and gender and parents can even choose key words to include or exclude: for example, if you want to keep content with Unicorns out of the house, you can do that (assuming the video creators have tagged their content appropriately). Parents are also able to create custom filters specific to each child.

Ameba is also less expensive than other streaming services. This makes sense, given that the kids only focus means the total amount of content is lower than in other services, but the price makes it pretty close to a no brainer. Only $3.99 monthly nets unlimited rentals. Unlike AppleTV, which gives you only a day to re-watch a rental after the initial viewing, you can download a show on Ameba and watch it repeatedly over the course of the month.

Like Netflix, Ameba has made its streaming services available through a third party set-top box, in this case Roku devices. All content is also available for streaming to a computer (Mac and PC are both supported but video can’t be streamed to an iPad or other iOS device), and Ameba also released its own set-top box, which somewhat resembles a brightly decorated Mac Mini or first generation Apple TV. The advantage to renting or buying the set top box is a direct connection to your TV, its use of BitTorrent for downloading and a 150 GB hard drive that stores files locally for those times when kids watch the same program repeatedly. This helps to stave off the dreaded bandwidth cap.

The Ameba TV boxThe Ameba TV box

Ameba's own set-top box (image from Amebatv.com)

In a world where streaming media is everywhere and accessible from pretty much any device you could imagine, does it make sense to introduce another paid service, especially one that targets kids? If you’re a parent of young children and you have concerns about what your kids are watching when you aren’t there to supervise, or you’re tired of managing access to streaming content on a multitude of websites, Ameba does offer an attractive solution. If you’re on the fence or not sure whether it’s worth it, they offer a free one week trial, so you have nothing to lose by checking it out.

Ameba By the Numbers:

Subscribers: on track to be on just over 5 million net connected and smart TV devices by year end.
Content: over 1,200 episodes with new content added to the library on a regular basis.
Monthly subscription: $3.99/month for unlimited content.
Ameba box cost (optional): $6/month to rent or $129 to purchase.
Availability: Canada and the US (some content available worldwide).

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