Parent Group Criticizes Hulu Content Controls; Hails Netflix, Disney+

The Parents Television and Media Council April 20 released a new study evaluating the most popular streaming services, finding that ad-supported services like Paramount+, Peacock and Hulu are the most cost-effective, but that Hulu rates the worst with parental controls, while Netflix has the best oversight.

The PTC looked at both the up-front and hidden costs a family would pay by “cutting the cord” and switching to a streaming-only platform consisting of the most popular streaming services currently on the market. For the report’s non-economic analysis, the PTC reviewed the parental controls available on those most popular services.

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Ranked on a relative scale, Netflix was found to have the best parental controls of the major streaming services; Hulu, the worst. The parental controls available on Peacock, Paramount+ and HBO Max are similar enough to be virtually undistinguishable. Disney scores slightly higher because of the “kid-proof exit” feature, which requires users to answer a security question to switch profiles. Apple TV+ scored well because it  provides parents with data about screen usage.

Although most streaming services are still not using content descriptors to indicate elevated levels of sexual content, adult dialogue, foul language or violence, the PTC found most have  adopted some variation of content controls based on age-rating.

Most often these involve creating one or more separate user profiles, choosing an age or rating threshold (most often using a combination of TV Parental Guidelines and Motion Picture Association ratings), and PIN-restricted access to content above that age or rating threshold.

“With streaming increasing in popularity, due in part to increased screen time because of COVID lockdowns, families need to know which services will be most cost-effective,” Tim Winter, president of PTC, said in a statement. “But they also need to know which services will best protect children from harmful content.”

The study found Paramount+, Peacock, and Hulu to be the most cost-effective streamers, but less so when it comes to parental controls or enough distinction between age-appropriate programming. In fact, PTC found Hulu to be the worst of the various platforms for parental controls, even failing to distinguish between content that would be suitable for a 7-year-old versus a 13-year-old.

“Given that Hulu is owned by Walt Disney, we were surprised and disappointed that it didn’t have better parental controls,” Winter said.

For parents who are working to protect their children from age-inappropriate content, the challenges in the over-the-top video era have never been greater, according to Melissa Henson, PTC program director.

“Launching Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or any one of dozens of streaming apps gives a child instantaneous access to a virtually unlimited catalog of programming,” Henson said.

She said the PTC is encouraged that Netflix has made significant improvements to its parental controls, including allowing parents to block specific programs, since its last report on streaming TV. But Henson added that Netflix should continue to make more improvements, including giving users the ability to block entire categories of content.

“Disney+ remains the best alternative for families with young children looking to exclusively stream family-friendly content,” Henson said.

The PTC is calling on all streaming providers to develop and adopt industry best practices for robust parental controls; calling on the Congress to pass a legislative update to the Family Movie Act of 2005, so families can filter out explicit and age-inappropriate content; and calling on the FCC to revisit and renew the promises Congress made to families when it passed the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2008.

Meanwhile, from a cost perspective, the PTC found ad-supported streaming services like Paramount+, Peacock and Hulu to be the most cost-effective. Disney+ provides the best economic value for families with young children looking primarily or exclusively to stream family-friendly content.

Amazon Prime Video has many hidden costs, including additional “channels” and options to rent or buy that make its program inventory appear “deceptively” large, as many titles appear in a search that cannot be viewed without the addition of a channel.

Netflix Updates Parental Controls

Netflix April 7 announced an update of its parental controls.

“We’re updating and improving those controls, based on feedback from our members,” kids product manager Michelle Parsons wrote on the company blog.

Updates allow parents to use PIN protection for individual profiles to prevent kids from using them and tailor their kids Netflix experience by filtering out titles that are not appropriate for their age using country ratings. It also gives them the ability to remove individual series or films by title. When this filter is used, the blocked title won’t show up anywhere in that profile. Parents can also easily review each profile’s setting using the “Profile and Parental Controls” hub within account settings and see what their kids have been watching within the profile created for them. A new feature allows them to turn off auto play of episodes in kids’ profiles.

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“Everyone can now add these new, improved controls to their profile by going to account settings on our mobile or laptop,” wrote Parsons. “Choice and control have always been important for our members, especially parents. We hope that these additional controls will help parents make the right choices for their families.”

‘Kids & Family’ Service Added to the Roku Channel

Roku has announced the addition of the “Kids & Family” service on the Roku Channel, making it easy for children and parents to find a selection of tailored content available for free and through premium subscriptions, according to the company.

In addition, Roku is rolling out parental control features for the Roku Channel.

“We recognize that it can be a challenge to find quality kids and family entertainment across multiple streaming channels, particularly free, ad-supported options,” said Rob Holmes, VP of programming and engagement, Roku, in a statement. “’Kids & Family’ not only provides a selection of great free, ad-supported content from partners like pocket.watch with ‘Ryan’s World’ and Lionsgate’s ‘Leapfrog,’ but also highlights kids’ entertainment from existing premium subscriptions partners. Parents looking to find great programming for their children will enjoy the ease of going to the Roku Channel as their one place for kids and family entertainment.”

“Kids & Family” delivers a blend of shows, movies, and live linear and short-form video typically found across multiple free and paid kids’ channels and brings them together to watch in a single place, according to a Roku release. In addition to free, ad-supported options, users who have already subscribed to premium subscriptions through the Roku Channel will be able to view subscription-based kids and family content from partners such as Hopster, Noggin and Zoomoo, as well as children’s entertainment from services such as HBO and Starz, directly within “Kids & Family.”

Roku’s in-house editorial team created the “Kids & Family” experience to feature series, movies and entertainment for kids, according to the release. It offers 7,000 free, ad-supported movies and TV episodes from more than 20 partners such as All Spark, A Hasbro Company, DHX Media, Happy Kids TV, Lionsgate, Mattel, Moonbug, and pocket.watch, among others. Programming includes  shows such as “Care Bears,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “Leapfrog,” “Little Baby Bum,” “My Little Pony,” “Rev & Roll,” “Super Mario Brothers” and “Thomas & Friends”; live/linear streams featuring 24/7 kids programming available from Moonbug, pocket.watch and partners powered by Xumo, including Ameba, BatteryPop and KidGenius; five exclusive episodes of 22-minute series “Ryan’s World” by pocket.watch available directly on the Roku Channel for the first time; and premium subscriptions from Blue Ant Media’s ZooMoo, CONtv, Dove Channel, HBO, Hopster, Noggin, Starz or Up Faith and Family through the Roku Channel, featuring such series as “Bubble Guppies,” “Dora the Explorer,” “PAW Patrol,” “Peppa Pig” and movies including Adventures of Elmo in Groucholand and Muppets Take Manhattan.

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“There is a tremendous opportunity to expand our reach with the quickly growing audience on the Roku Channel,” said Chris M. Williams, founder and CEO, pocket.watch, in a statement. “Family time is often enjoyed in the living room where Roku is so successful and we’re thrilled to bring our biggest creator partners, like Ryan from ‘Ryan’s World,’ into the heart of the home through the new pocket.watch channel.”

Kids & Family” will have approximately 40% of the advertising time of traditional linear television, according to Roku. Lego Systems has signed on as the first advertising sponsor of the service.

“Roku offers a custom experience that will help us connect with our kid and family audiences, who are consuming content on an evolving array of platforms,” said Michael McNally, senior director at the Lego Group, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be the exclusive sponsorship partner in ‘Kids & Family’ on The Roku Channel.”

PIN-based playback controls to the Roku Channel help parents set access limits to content based on ratings within the Roku Channel. If the setting is enabled, a PIN will be required in order to view videos on the Roku Channel based on the content rating.

“Kids & Family” is now available to users of the Roku Channel in the United States and will be available on Roku devices, via the Web and on select Samsung smart TVs that access the Roku Channel.

Netflix Ups Parental Controls

Netflix March 5 announced rollout of a PIN control option for movies and episodic series enabling parents and guardians more control over what their children can watch on the streaming service.

Since launching Netflix Kids in 2011, the SVOD giant has offered myriad parental controls so children can stream content independently and free of commercials.

Now, Netflix is enabling parents to place controls on specific programing, including maturity level.

The service will begin displaying more prominently the maturity level rating for a series or member once a member hits play on a title. Netflix said it plans to make ratings information more descriptive and easier for subscribers to understand with just a quick glance.

“We understand that every family is different and that parents have differing perspectives on what they feel is appropriate to watch at different ages,” Mike Hastings, director of enhanced content, at Netflix wrote in a blog post. “These latest steps are part of our continuous efforts to keep members better informed, and more in control, of what they and their families choose to watch on Netflix.”