The top-five things on our radar this month

From rising retail sales to Google dropping billions in the name of hardware, we're keeping our fingers on the pulse of the fast-paced kids entertainment business.
September 14, 2011

1. Google gets into hardware
Google completed its largest-ever acquisition this summer, forking over US$12.5 billion to buy Motorola Mobility, the handset maker whose biggest competitors are HTC and Samsung. The move took even those in the know by surprise, spurring a 2.6% dip in Google stock prices. However, analysts have since pointed to Motorola’s stockpile of more than 17,000 mobile-related patents and manufacturing capability that give Google a competitive advantage in an area that experts agree will only grow. (Google CEO Larry Page is looking at you, Jobs.) Perhaps the biggest upshot of the deal—and one that’s barely been explored—is that the move will bolster Google’s TV offering. Motorola is one of the largest suppliers of set-top boxes to the cable industry and the search giant is hoping the purchase will give it a leg up in the lucrative race to facilitate seamless family-room media consumption.

2. The changing face of toons
The science of animating emotions like elation, anger and jealousy just got a little more exact. Disney has teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University to develop a process for animating the most expressive faces yet. Using motion-capture footage that pinpoints and subdivides key facial regions to build a full 3D model, it’s now possible to alter just one part of an expression—say, a raised eyebrow—instead of having to manipulate the whole face.

3. Retail rising?
Although the downgrade of the US credit rating wasn’t great for an economy that is still sputtering, there was some good news. According to the US Commerce Department, retail sales climbed 0.5% in July, the biggest increase experienced since March, and better than the forecasted 0.2%. While tickertape parades are not in the offing, any sign of positive growth is welcome news for what’s still the world’s biggest consumer products market.

4. Leave those Muppets alone
On the heels of New York legalizing gay marriage, a US activist group petitioned to “let” Bert and Ernie get married. Sesame Workshop responded that they are Muppets and have no sexual orientation. Besides, we all know they’re more like curious five-year-olds whose only obligation is to help kids learn—and maybe foster a love for the finer things, namely rubber duckies and bottle caps.

5. Cooling consoles
With monthly in-store sales of video games touching their lowest point since 2006 this past July, it’s clear that console culture is changing. Not helping those fears is news of Nintendo slashing the price of its 3DS handheld by 40% and publisher THQ shedding 200 jobs amidst closing video game development studios. The silver lining? Well, you can probably find it along the side of your iPhone.

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