In "Kinect Sesame Street TV," characters will ask viewers questions about, say, how many coconuts are displayed.
Courtesy Sesame Workshop
In "Kinect Sesame Street TV," characters will ask viewers questions about, say, how many coconuts are displayed.

Story highlights

Using the Kinect motion sensor, kids can interact with two popular TV shows

Characters in the shows will talk to viewers and have them participate in show activities

Microsoft's Kinect system employs a voice-recognition feature

CNN —  

Microsoft is joining forces with two television shows to make TV a two-way experience for kids.

Using the motion sensor and voice-recognition software in Microsoft’s Kinect system for Xbox, children will be able to interact with two popular shows for young viewers: “Nat Geo WILD” and “Sesame Street.”

The idea behind these two new game/TV applications – “Kinect Sesame Street” and ‘Kinect Nat Geo TV’ – is to have characters in the programs talk to the kids and help them participate in show activities.

For example, in “Kinect Sesame Street,” Grover will ask viewers how many coconuts are in his box. Under normal TV viewing, a child could give any answer and Grover would say, “That’s right. There are 5 coconuts in the box.” With the two-way experience, if the child gives a wrong answer, Grover would ask him or her to count again and would only continue once the right answer is given.

Terry Fitzpatrick, executive vice president of content and distribution at Sesame Workshop, envisions the Kinect as a new way to connect with the “Sesame Street” audience as the program enters its 43rd season on television.

“(The Kinect) is a natural and intuitive interface for preschoolers,” he said. “You don’t have to teach a child how to use a mouse or how to use one of those complicated controllers that most gaming platforms have.”

Fitzpatrick said his company has worked hard to layer interactivity into their shows for “Kinect Sesame Street TV.” The shows are from last season, but the experience for the kids will be totally new. If the child doesn’t feel like playing along, the show will continue passively, just as if it was broadcast on TV.

Microsoft also is discovering people are using Kinect for more than just gaming. Usage numbers for Xbox LIVE in the past year show a growing percentage of time spent on nongaming activities, the company said. Microsoft feels this partnership with Sesame Workshop and National Geographic was a perfect extension to appeal to those nongamers.

“People who have been our gamers for a long time are also expanding their entertainment usage of the platform,” said Jaymi Bauer, Xbox director of product marketing for family experiences. “What you see with ‘Kinect Sesame Street TV’ and ‘Kinect Nat Geo TV’ is that first real concerted effort of how we use interactive entertainment with gaming mechanics.”

Bauer said until now many young kids may not realize the TV doesn’t hear them and might jump when told to jump. She hopes when Elmo throws a ball to a child and the child catches the virtual “ball” and throws it back, it will open up brand new experiences for those kids.

Both Fitzpatrick and Bauer said this partnership is likely to open doors to new content opportunities for kids and gamers. Fitzpatrick said Sesame Workshop learned a lot about what kids will do in front of a television when prompted, which will help them develop new interactive content for the future. And Bauer credited Sesame Workshop with finding a unique way of getting kids to stand in the best spot for the Kinect to be effective.

“When you develop things for a 3-year old, you’ve got to be drop-dead simple and really smooth to use,” Bauer said. “They’ve actually developed this really clever application of a mirror. The mirror is a little character himself, and he’s wanting you to find yourself. The little ones are shouting, ‘Here I am!’ and they are standing perfectly in the sweet spot for the Kinect.”

Each episode runs about 45 minutes, depending on the interactivity level of the child. A hard disc of eight episodes can be bought through retailers ($29.99), but shows can also be downloaded using Xbox LIVE ($4.99 per episode or $29.99 for a season pass). There is also bonus historical content for both shows included on the disc and with the season pass.

Do you want your TV to talk and play with your child? Is this something that would interest your preschooler? Tell us in the comments!