At first glance, it's a teddy bear that sings and tells stories.
This is not new. Remember Teddy Ruxpin, the teddy bear with the built-in cassette player? Apparently, he's still being manufactured and still tells stories, although now with digital cartridges.
Here's what's new with Smart-e-Bear: he's got a USB port.
Which means, the songs and stories are totally customizable. Hook him up to the computer, and with an iTunes-like interface, you can manage and create the educational content, songs, and stories that the bears "knows."
But here's why I'm telling you this:
Imagine you visit a kid's bedroom. There's her teddy bear. She squeezes the bear paw, and all of a sudden the bear is channeling Bill Harley. Bill Harley's voice is coming out of the bear, telling Bill Harley's stories.
Or Donna Washington. Alan Irvine. Diane Ferlatte. Elizabeth Falconer (complete with koto).
Or you. (Artists, like the ones I've just mentioned, can have their
Oh, by the way... I should disclose that I'M NOT JOKING. Donna and Bill and Diane and Elizabeth and Trout Fishing in America have already licensed their material to be distributed by these talking bears.
I think the customization factor is the hook that's generating the buzz... for parents. This is a toy that will be marketed to parents, not kids (no commercials for this toy on the Saturday morning cartoon lineup. I'm guessing that there will be lots of articles instead in Parenting and Women's magazines). And maybe they will buy it. Hip parents who like creating playlists on iTunes will get into the programming of this toy. And practical parents, who aren't by any means frugal (not at this toy's price), but who like to think of themselves as savvy, will appreciate that you can adjust the developmental level of the toy to the age of your child-- extending the life of the purchase.
But good marketing to parents and decent sales doesn't mean kids are gonna love it. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that this will generate more recognition for storytellers.
But for the under 3 crowd, smart-e has to compete with Elmo Live, the latest incarnation of the electronic muppet, which can now tell stories. (Sesame Workshop was to have introduced an artificially intelligent Elmo cyborg at this year's Toy Fair, but apparently a time-traveling resistance fighter from the future came back from the future and destroyed the plant in China were these were being manufactured. This time traveler himself was being pursued by an Elmo-1000, and advanced cyborg assassin from the future to destroy the resistance fighter's mother....
but I digress.
Smart-e-bear. For the 3 to 6 age group, if my kids are any indication, they'd rather hear a Donna Washington or Bill Harley story from a CD on their boombox, or from an iPod. Having it come out of a plush toy is not value added for my kids. Now, if smart-e-bear had a Teletubbies-like screen on their bellies where my kids could watch a video of Donna or Bill telling a story, or failing that, YouTube videos of Star Wars recreated in LEGOs, that'd be value added.
BUT HERE'S THE VALUE ADDED FOR PERFORMANCE STORYTELLING:
Can't afford to fly out the big names to your venue?
For just $79.99, you've got his/her avatar, in a cute and cuddly, soft and squishy, family friendly format!!
And if you've got a technogeek on your Festival producing team, it would probably not be too hard to hack the smart-e-bear, and voila! You've got Kevin Kling! Elizabeth Ellis! Dan Keding! Don't want to confuse your audience? Buy a smart-e-dog and smart-e-cat and then your audience can differentiate Syd Lieberman from Connie Regan-Blake!
They don't eat. They don't demand green M&Ms in their dressing room. No lodging and transportation costs (think of how much greener your Festival's carbon footprint will be without all that jet fuel burned to get your talent to the site!)
Although... I'm not sure if these things actually move.
You might have to budget for a puppeteer to animate the toy's arms.
Plus, if you can get these things wholesale, or pick up a dozen at CostCo, you could resell them at your festival's souvenir stand for a markup. And if you do happen to have Donna or Alan or Bill at your event, their autograph on this little plush cyborg means even more ROI!