Sophistication, Selection Power Children’s
By Paul A. Paterson
A child's video library now includes more than animated feature films
or re-packaged episodes of television shows. Today, educational tapes
designed to introduce reading, counting, creative thinking and other basic
skills share equal time in the VCR.
The market for children's entertainment videos has expanded over the
last few years to the point where a Web search for "children's video"
nets well over 50,000 hits, and industry estimates put the value of the
so-called "edutainment" video industry at $500 million.
Some credit for this goes to the expansion of the home entertainment
market. Today, most kids can operate a VCR before they can ride a bike,
and busy parents see children's videos as a safe, controlled way to entertain
"Videos give you a chance to control what your kids are watching,"
said Larry Balaban, executive vice president of marketing and production
at Genius Products (ToyShow).
"Parents can appreciate anytime you can control that and [then] go
wash a dish."
Balaban says children's videos are a popular purchase for modern families,
pointing to a study indicating that within the first four years of life,
parents rent or purchase approximately 94 videos for their children. Over
at Buena Vista Home Entertainment (ToyShow),
Executive Director, Product Development and Acquisitions Lia Murphy believes
the variety of educational products on television has something to do
with this trend.
"Previously, educational preschool programming was basically limited
to PBS, but now with preschool-targeted program blocks such as Playhouse
Disney and Nick Jr., the offerings have increased, and parents and children
are responding accordingly," Murphy said. "The convergence of
these factors has resulted in the increased popularity of edutainment-driven
[education plus entertainment] videos and DVDs."
Jill Pruitt of Small Fry Productions (ToyShow)
notes that today product developers recognize children as true consumers
of video product. For their part, Pruitt says Small Fry focuses on products
that work either alone or in conjunction with each other.
"We always emphasize that our products tend to be interactive but
can also stand alone," she said. "It's not meant to be a babysitter,
but the child can watch it by themselves. If your child is going to be
viewing something, why not let them be learning something?"
Another trend that Balaban has noticed is a general improvement in the
production quality of new releases. Early products were generally amateurish
and roughly edited. Today, that has all changed.
"It was all independent [before], but then all of a sudden, Disney
bought Baby Einstein and we emerged as a major player, and now there's
only so much shelf space at major retailers," Balaban explained.
"Sure, you can get some titles on a website, but if you're going
to mass-market and get into Wal-Mart or Target, they aren't going to accept
Murphy believes the improvement is function of greater marketplace competition.
"With more products in the marketplace, the bar has been raised and
a stronger emphasis is now placed on good quality programming," she
said. "It helps add credibility to these shows as edutainment, and
parents can be comfortable sharing the programs with their children."
Dennis Fedoruk of The Brainy Baby Company (ToyShow)
believes the use of highly skilled and experienced producers has also
"I agree that the early generation of baby videos were amateur at
best," he said. "The technology didn't change or improve, [and
then] you just had video producers and professionals that had years of
experience jump into the game and apply their creative and technical skills
to the video category."
The bottom line, Murphy believes, is that a well-stocked children's video
library is a great way for parents to extend the benefits of preschool
programming to other parts of the broadcast day.
"Preschool programming only airs for a certain block of time on
their respective channels," she said. "If you or your child
wants to view the program at another time, you need an alternative content
source, which videos and DVDs provide. Personally, I find they provide
great ‘winding down’ time at the end of the day. There simply is no suitable
programming for preschoolers during ‘prime time’ hours."