RealTime IT News

New Kids Service Launches from AOL

America Online has launched KOL, a new version of its service for kids, which gives more control to parents with AOL accounts -- and fewer reasons for members to switch to another ISP.

The new KOL service is geared for kids aged 6 to 12 but also includes a version of the AOL service for younger children and pre-schoolers. Designed to replace AOL's popular Kids Only Channel, the KOL service comes as the ISP readies to release its latest service upgrade, AOL 9.0 Optimized.

It also arrives as the ISP looks for ways to manage the expected decline of a chunk of its dial-up base as broadband access from a variety of providers is increasingly available to households. With the new KOL service as one new feature among many in its upcoming 9.0 Optimized rollout, AOL is moving to capitalize on one of its more popular features among subscribers: parent controls that let the adults in a household set limits on children's online activities.

As a retention tool to keep dial-up or even broadband subscribers from defecting to other providers, the kids-only service, which is free to members, has long proven its potential.

Before the launch of the KOL service, for example, AOL's Kids Only Channel was consistently ranked among the top online destinations for kids aged 2 through 11, according to research from comScore Media Metrix. About 3.3 million children use the service through the ISP's Parental Controls, said Malcolm Bird, senior vice president and general manager of AOL Kids and Teens.

The new kids-only version is in some ways a chip off the AOL block with offers of exclusive content from publications such as Sports Illustrated for Kids, TIME For Kids and DC Comics, along with loads of personalization themes.

Other features include 45 new interactive games, a specially-commissioned interactive storybook, a live hosted online daily radio program (AOL's first ever for kids), and animated cartoon shorts such as the anthology of a character called "Princess Natasha."

No banner advertising is allowed in the KOL service, but AOL does plan to make use of what it calls strategic content with some of its partnerships, Bird said.

"The service comes after extensive consumer research and focus on what parents and children are telling us they want," Bird said.

"The service gives kids their own online world, not just one channel on their Mom's and Dad's AOL service," and is integrated with new forms of protections to add to AOL's Parental Controls features, such as timers and more extensive reports on children's online activities.

AOL is well aware that kids are among the fastest growing of online audiences. For example, one third of AOL members are in households with children between 2 and 12 years of age. According to Jupiter Research (whose parent company also owns this publication), within three years, 57 percent of kids under 11 will be online.

When AOL's 9.0 Optimized rolls out for subscribers, AOL members using the kids channel will instead see the KOL service too.