March 12, 2008

And I For One, Welcome Our New Cute and Cuddly Electronic Overlords

Last month in New York, the Toy Industry Association held the 2008 Toy Fair, the trade show where all the toy companies "preview" their new toys for the season (and get an early jump on orders for the 2008 holiday shopping season). Why does this matter to storytellers?

smart-e-bearMeet "smart-e-bear."

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 souls absorbed by stories licensed to Intellitoy's digital matrix at by the way, one niche they are looking to fill is stories told in Chinese or Spanish)

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.


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!!

bear cat and dog

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!


PriscillaHowe said...

Is this the same as the stuffed animal mp3 players that have the speakers place in the ears? A parent I know put the stories from my CDs in his son's toy. The weird part was when they came over to my house--the son had never met me or heard me tell stories live, so when my real voice came out of my real mouth and not out of his toy, he got a slightly shocked look on his face.

About Sean Buvala said...

OMG! That is the cutest story, Priscilla. What a blast.

Sometimes, I put my headphones in my ears, turn on my Ipod to Tim's stories and move my mouth to them whilst looking in the mirror. Voila! I save myself $80 on a bear.
Yay me.

Tim, this post is so dry that I don't know what you really feel about this subject. That's kinda rare 'cuz normally we raving lunatics(tm) speak a speacial language fueled by Capt. Morgan.

About Sean Buvala said...

"Buy a smart-e-dog and smart-e-cat and then your audience can differentiate Syd Lieberman from Connie Regan-Blake!" Oh, you are going to be so busted.

Tim said...

How I really feel about the subject? I'm not telling.

I am an enigma wrapped inside a mystery inside two riddles bundled in an indeterminate conundreum.