Opinion, Independent kid videos: a missed opportunity

Andrea Blain is a publicist specializing in children's videos. She is based in Skokie, IL.

This may be tantamount to blasphemy, but there is life-and profitability-beyond Disney, Barney and Sesame Street in children's programming. A huge resource of innovative and quality...
November 1, 1996

Andrea Blain is a publicist specializing in children’s videos. She is based in Skokie, IL.

This may be tantamount to blasphemy, but there is life-and profitability-beyond Disney, Barney and Sesame Street in children’s programming. A huge resource of innovative and quality children’s programming remains largely untapped. I’m referring to the independent children’s home video market, which is sadly under-represented in traditional video distribution channels.

The reasons for this are varied. Most distributors don’t make an effort to push independent titles due to the fact that many of these titles are single releases (as opposed to series), so distributors believe there is a limited future for the products. Additionally, the majority of independent producers of children’s videos just don’t know how to market their releases. Most significantly, very few of them have the financial resources to support an adequate promotional campaign.

Yet despite these shortcomings, the independent sector provides many potential opportunities for retailers, as well as television programmers and toy manufacturers looking for the next children’s phenomenon, say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Who would have figured that a black and white, self-published comic book would go so far? But LIVE Home Video got in early and made $100 million in revenues on the Turtles in 1989 alone.)

As a publicist who specializes in marketing independent children’s videos, I have seen consumers buy these titles in significant numbers, based solely on grassroots publicity campaigns. When editors print toll-free order numbers, producers record sales. But producers also hear parents complain, ‘These videos are great, but why aren’t they available in our neighborhood?’

This discrepancy is not only frustrating for the producer and the consumer, but also means lost revenues to specialty retailers and mass-merchants.

Independent videos represent a wealth of exceptional programming that can benefit retailers, primarily 30-minute, live-action, reality-based genres. Kids can watch how a car is built or take a trip to a real working farm. They can learn all about making a kite or behind-the-scenes jobs at zoos. Interested in astronomy, fossil hunting or American Sign Language? Infants and toddlers can learn their ABCs and 1-2-3s. A virtual library of edutainment exists in award-winning videos, which encourage kids to try new things, teach them about their ever-growing world and empower them with knowledge.

Brand recognition is clearly a powerful buying force that influences parents when they are choosing products for their kids. But brand recognition can be developed in a slightly different way for the independent children’s home video market.

Retailers could, for instance, set aside a section of their stores as a kidvid area for award-winning titles. And they could uncover these titles on their own. Each year, several prestigious parenting organizations give awards for the best in children’s entertainment. There are many wonderful resources to use to pinpoint children’s programming.

The Parents’ Choice Foundation was created in 1978 to help parents determine the best, safest and most educational products on the market. Many parents are familiar with its annual awards program. According to the nation’s press, the Parents’ Choice Awards are considered the Oscars of the children’s field. Joanne Oppenheim, a well-known author of children’s books and leading authority on child development and education, is the co-author of The Best Toys, Books, Videos & Software for Kids 1997, published every fall. Retailers could stock this book and others that promote the best in children’s videos along with the videos mentioned.

Independent children’s home video could be seen as a library in itself. Whatever subject interests a child can be found on videocassette. Many of these titles, after visually igniting a child’s imagination, include references at the end of the program directing viewers to their local library to investigate more about the subject.

Parents, educators, politicians and programmers alike are concerned about what our kids are exposed to on television. The V-chip is embroiled in controversy. But there are other choices. Retailers could profit from providing them.

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