Comcast Cynically Tugs on FCC Heartstrings With Missing Children Campaign

New on-demand initiative just doesn’t feel appropriate in an interactive television menu, stuck between “The Sopranos” and “Avatar”

In an obvious nod to curry favor with the FCC, Comcast proudly unveiled the latest use of its on-demand service this week.

Click down into the menu and you’ll find a new section devoted to missing children, right next to old television shows, dating profiles and the latest movies.

Comcast notes that “Missing Kids On Demand” is a groundbreaking public service initiative, intended to help find “an estimated 800,000 children (who) are reported as missing in the United States,” every year.

The program works with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and is run through more than 25 major cities, including Portland, Denver, and Washington, D.C.

It is modeled after a similar on demand program, “Police Blotter,” which has had a very high success rate, catching 90 suspects in about 1,400 cases.

Unfortunately, the whole way “Missing Kids On Demand” is handled is odd.

The first challenge is finding the button. Drill down into the Comcast On Demand menu and it’s a bit of a search.

Then, once you do find the Missing Kids button, you can click on any of the children listed. (There were 20 on the day I checked it out.)

Kids are not movie titles, however. Do you click on only one or should you click on all 20?

The presentation of each video is also upsetting.

Each child is shown in two images — one when they were last seen is displayed next to an image digitally altered to show how the child might look now, years later.

It is a strange juxtaposition. Add the dramatic music, heart-rending film footage of a toddler's empty shoes and urgent narration, and the two- to three-minute clips border on sensationalistic.

Certainly, this effort is well-intentioned, but it raises questions for anyone who has followed the issue.

Just like the pictures on the milk cartons of years gone by, the on-demand videos strike me as a fumbling attempt to publicize an important issue. There are better ways to do this, however: Witness the continued success of shows like “America’s Most Wanted.”

The subject doesn’t feel appropriate in an interactive television menu, stuck between “The Sopranos” and “Avatar.”

Nor does it seem to me that watching missing-children profiles is what people do while enjoying their leisure time. I can’t help but be cynical about Comcast’s motives and timing.

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