Constantly seeking critical mass. . .

It just got harder to get a piece of kids' attention. Blame Barbie, blame Intel Play, blame Cow and Chicken and CatDog....
March 1, 1999

It just got harder to get a piece of kids’ attention. Blame Barbie, blame Intel Play, blame Cow and Chicken and CatDog.

Toys, TV shows and kid flicks are hipper, and marketing smarter than ever before. After sorting through the mega-push behind the new products at Toy Fair, the intense upfront competition, and various related licensing presentations, it’s evident that the already complex cross-partnering to increase property visibility is accelerating on all fronts.

Even with exponential tie-in action, the barrage of options makes it harder to grab kid mind share. This issue, KidScreen looks at the rising release stakes in the direct-to-video market (‘Battling the crowd,’ page 33). And in our upfront survey, we explore the impact of decreasing TV audiences, as kids get bombarded with more viewing and non-broadcast-related entertainment choices (‘Lower ratings set the upfront stage,’ page 41).

As TV fragments, the Web consolidates as on-line hub destinations gain critical mass with site mergers; it seems that the two mediums did not converge so much as morph. The entertainment industry’s chain reaction to a skyrocketing Web audience is also monitored in this issue, as more studio muscle is finally applied to developing killer on-line kid apps (‘Warner Bros. drives original Web series production,’ page 61).

Fresh from Toy Fair, there’s evidence that more weight is being put behind digital product, reflecting the category’s growing importance.

On the CD-ROM front, Warner Bros. is rolling out a slew of new titles featuring the Looney Tunes alumni (‘No Mill-Looney-Um twouble,’ page 18), and for the first time, eight of the nine new CD-ROM brands from Mattel Media will debut with TV advertising. Last year, Mattel Media had only two brands and 12 titles; this year the company boasts 26 titles. Barbie (who has a part in the new Toy Story pic), is readying for the millennium with the very trendy Generation Girl gang toys, as well as partnerships with Teen for handheld electronics, with Golden Books for a Generation Girl adventure book series, and Sony for a PlayStation game.

The fairly limited awareness options of toys-without-a-TV-show just got more dismal, as the uber-toy brands have raised the partnering bar to reach new niches. Simultaneously, new cybertoy lines have raised the play-pattern threshold to new heights. The introduction of Intel Play’s new Me2Cam (a digital camera that allows kids to have a virtual reality game experience on their computer screen) and X3 Microscope (a magnifying digital camera with an animate-your-friends-as-bugs feature) changes everything.

Even kids one to four are being pitched electronic (and licensed) toys-witness the recently launched Teletubbies Actimate.

Bottom line, even if you have a stand-out original toy hit, you’re even farther off the radar screen if you don’t have a tie-in delivering that critical mass hook. For instance, the new blunt-end Nerf Bounceback football, which self-tees and rebounds when thrown against a wall, has a major NFL promo lined up for the fall, with the support of the Nerf name and Hasbro. And on the flip side, when trying to roll out new licensing programs for TV shows, even the studios need to prove mass. Fox Family Worldwide Consumer Products executive VP Elie Dekel says, ‘retailers want to see performance or critical mass going in.’

For some companies, the focus on cross-leveraging established franchises to gain the most noise for a toy or TV property has left too little time and money spent purely on creative R&D-and it’s noticeable. Increased cross-partnering is necessary, but bringing the promotional angles into play should not replace the original creative impulse. And when partnering, sometimes choosing smarts over mass-like Intel-pays off.

cheers, mm

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