Special Report: Children’s Interactive Expo Report: Kids are Welcome

The year-old Children's Interactive Expo brings together trade representatives, educators and consumers under one roof. Kids are also invited to try software products. But for software publishers and developers, it's the kids that they're most eager to meet...
October 1, 1996

The year-old Children’s Interactive Expo brings together trade representatives, educators and consumers under one roof. Kids are also invited to try software products. But for software publishers and developers, it’s the kids that they’re most eager to meet

Imagine a show for kids, parents, teachers and retailers, as well as software publishers and developers exhibiting their wares, all under one roof. For the second year, the Children’s Interactive Expo is bringing this picture to life.

The four-day event, taking place October 3 to 6 at the Herbst Pavilion of San Francisco’s Fort Mason, is part consumer, part education and part trade show. Kids can test titles on demo computers on Thursday and Friday morning. For the remainder of the day, trade attendees are welcome, and teachers can receive free training on how to use some of the products on display. Finally, on the weekend, the general public is invited to flock to the event.

‘Our end goal is to create the most powerful and effective sales and presentation vehicle,’ says Shannon Tobin, CEO and president of the show’s producer, San Francisco-based Wassadamo L.L.C. For the Expo, that means anything from offering publishers and developers a way to receive input from kids to allowing them to sell products on the showroom floor.

As ‘the hotbed of multimedia,’ San Francisco makes an ideal location, says Tobin. Wassadamo has chosen to hold the Expo once a year in October-after running shows in June and October last year-because this is a good time to attract parents and retailers preparing for the holidays and teachers starting a new school year.

As well as assembling so many different audiences for one show, the other attribute that sets the Children’s Interactive Expo apart from other new media events, says Tobin, is its tight focus on the ‘best-quality products’ for kids from pre-kindergarten to grade eight.

To ensure that only the ‘best-quality products’ are present, a team of about 25 parents, teachers, kids, software publishers and developers, and journalists prescreens each of the titles from potential exhibitors. To satisfy the panel, a title must be encouraging, challenging and provide positive reinforcement, as well as contain no violence or profanity. Companies that meet the grade are then invited as exhibitors. Of the 300 asked this year, about 200 are expected to participate.

For parents and teachers, says Tobin, this screening process offers reassurance that the Expo is a ‘safe’ environment for kids and that kids are learning from the time they spend on the computer, and for the trade, that they are not wasting their time looking through titles that are not appropriate for their retail outlets.

This year’s event is expected to draw 51,000 visitors, with 11,000 from schools, 15,000 trade and 25,000 families and individuals from the general public. Of the guests from schools in the U.S., students will account for 5,000 and teachers signed up for training another 1,400. Big retailers and specialty stores interested in ‘educationally sound products,’ international distributors, toy stores and venture capitalists are among the anticipated trade attendees, says Tobin.

But of all the visitors, it’s the kids that software publishers and developers are keenest to see.

‘We’re pretty excited’ about seeing kids’ reactions to the products, says Dan Rogers, general manager, entertainment with Atlanta, Georgia-based IBM’s Multimedia Studio. Feedback from consumers, emphasizes Rogers, is a vital element to creating software titles.

That input from kids and teachers is useful to take back to development staff, says Donnine Owen, marketing manager of The Lightspan Partnership. While the Carlsbad, California-based publisher and developer already meets with students and teachers when making its reading, language arts and math products for the school market, it appreciates another opportunity to test its titles.

As well as by just sampling the products, kids offer feedback by voting on the products, and choosing winners in the categories of awesome animation, hippest character, favorite music, best on-line program, would like to have at home, wish I had at school, and best of show. Teachers also choose their overall favorite title.

It’s that level of involvement from kids and teachers that encourages companies like Santa Clara, California-based Panasonic Interactive Media-October 1995 winner of the Kids’ Choice Award for awesome animation for its title Theo the Dinosaur-to return to the show.

‘We had a really good experience last time,’ says PIM public relations specialist Bonnie Schultz. ‘We especially enjoyed seeing the children’s reactions to the products. That’s not something we get to see every day.’

Compared with E3 and COMDEX, the two other trade shows it attends, ‘for children’s products, (the Children’s Interactive Expo) is definitely the best,’ says Schultz.

As well as reaching kids, Redmond, Washington-based Edmark Corporation is going a step further than some exhibitors by teaching first-grade math teachers how to use Mighty Math Carnival Countdown and third-grade math teachers how to incorporate Mighty Math Number Her’es in the classroom.

After attending last year, Edmark found the Expo to be ‘a great show for us to be able to get in front of key end users who really care about educationally rich, quality products,’ says Amy Gutmann, director of communications.

While most exhibitors would agree that consumers are their key target audience at this show, the trade attendance is also important. Fujitsu Interactive of San Jose, California, is hoping to introduce its original character Fin Fin, the star of the computer-generated interactive program Fin Fin on Teo, The Magic Planet, to potential licensees, says senior vice president Yoshi Matsumoto.

Discovery Toys is glad for the invitation because it is uncommon for a distributor of products to be included as an exhibitor, says Vickie Silver, public relations manager with the Livermore, California-based distributor of software (from such companies as Sierra On-line, MECC and Creative Wonders), toys, books and games. ‘We actually feel it’s a great honor to be invited.’

Despite the eagerness of those exhibitors who have accepted the CIE’s invitation, the show is still not a priority for all software publishers and developers. Companies among the invited exhibitors who are not participating say the show is not the best vehicle to reach their target audience and is badly timed in relation to other educational conferences.

Still, the show has grown surprisingly quickly from the 75 exhibitors at its launch as the Children’s Multimedia Expo last June, and 125 exhibitors and 25,000 attendees in October, says Tobin.

The show may be young, but Wassadamo is making big plans for its future. In 1997, the Children’s Interactive Expo will kick off in London, England, and Tokyo, Japan. In San Francisco, the show plans to add conferences and a press preview of products to its offerings, and will be complemented by a similar event called Appercu, for products geared at children in grade nine or higher.

Wassadamo is promoting this year’s event with a slew of TV, print and radio advertising, which Tobin says is necessary to raise awareness of the event among the general public-unlike most other trade shows that can typically rely on word of mouth to generate interest. As well as general radio advertising, it has teamed up with Seattle, Washington-based KidStar Radio.

Wassadamo also recently launched a Web site ( to serve as an ongoing resource for consumers, retailers, teachers and software publishers and developers alike, as well as to promote the annual event. On the Web site, a child can win a free trip to the Expo for him or her and three guests, plus free accomodation and merchandise, by coming up with the best name for the show’s mascot, a green dragon.

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