Friday, February 16, 2007

All About Kids

In February each year there are some amazing events that take place in New York City that are all about kids.

First off there’s KidScreen- a conference with some of the best and brightest in children’s media. Filmmakers, animators, illustrators, producers, directors and content delivers (television, cinema, internet, distributors). If its media and it’s for or about kids, it’s probably there.

Following that ToyFair starts up. ToyFair to me is the 8th Wonder of the World. The Jacob Javitz Center in NYC is jam-packed with almost every toy and game manufacturer in the world. Endless aisles and floors of the most amazing toys, games, bikes, scooters, clothing, sporting goods and much more. Floor to ceiling 30 foot high booths from Mattel, Nintendo, Hasbro and others. It’s a blast to walk through except for one thing- it is eerily like that town in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” No kids allowed. Just men and women, smartly dressed, walking around shaking hands and making deals.

And after that? An exclusive and very small gathering of influencers in children’s media in a meeting room high above Times Square. They come together for two days to challenge, encourage and update each other on what is happening in their businesses. It is a chance to connect into what others are doing, get ideas that can be applied to each attendees own business, and learn about what “works” in the marketplace of ideas.

Last year I did the whole set of three, and found the last to be both the most inspiring and the most depressing. It is a long story of how I was invited to this exclusive meeting. It was somewhat of an accident. I didn’t fit it, and it was apparent to me very quickly that I was out of my league.

I didn’t know what to expect, and so had laptop out for notes, and brain wide-open for input, and listened. Over the two days speakers poured out information and ideas, taking questions throughout each presentation, with plenty of breaks for meals, coffee, networking. I thought I would share the most enlightening points from those two days here.

Speaker 1 was an executive at a major childrens television network. She talked about strength through evolution (what does that mean?), knowing what you are doing at the center without over thinking the details so there is flexibility to change and adapt on the edges and details of your kids content. That all sounded reasonably good until she followed up with this tidbit- they want to attract more 13-16 year olds and seemed very excited about developing shows that “push the envelope including gay and lesbian characters and stories.” She said their research shows "17% of 13+ year olds would not classify themselves as straight", and seemed somewhat pleased at that. She is also excited about a new show they have developed that “deals with kids facing date rape, drug use, suicide, and other important issues.”

Speaker 2, a leader within a well-known organization that purports to police media to help keep kids safe had some interesting things to say. He warned that “the blue states” are hampering quality kids television and film by “complaining like they have for 30 years about too much sex, violence and drugs on TV.”

Speaker 3 spared me the envelope pushing and politics. He shared a few interesting observations about children:

  • The conventional wisdom about kids are getting older, faster, is nonsense.
  • Current thinking: 8-12 year olds stopped playing with toys and all they want is video games, music and iPods.
  • Reality: 8-12 year olds haven’t really stopped playing with toys…they just play with their Barbies, GI Joes and transformers privately and alone. A new generation of closet toy players.
  • Survey says- What’s important to kids: Family #1, Friends #2.
  • Kids just want to be kids, and they like being kids. They only aspire to be 1-2 years older, not 5+ as many 'experts' report.
  • Kids today represent a trillion dollar market. Personal spending $200B (snacks, food, drinks, clothes that parents don’t want them to buy), direct influence $300B (food, snacks, beverages, toys, family entertainment), Indirect influence $500B (recreation, vacation, family car and home).
Speaker 4 talked about the power of MOM. Your Mom is so….

  • Happy (vast majority love being moms, helping kids, being needed).
  • Powerful (they control 80% of family spending).
  • Smart (they can smell a sneaky marketing tactic a mile away).
  • Wired (they love the internet and websites. They are forming vast new communities and healthy relationships with other moms online).

Speaker 5 was my favorite. Former head of a huge kids cartoon company, he had just a very few things to say, but they hit me hard:

  • Start a blog now. If you don’t have one, you’re stupid.
  • Start podcasting and videocasting now, if you’re not, you’re stupid.
  • Start giving away more of your stuff for free, if you’re not, you’re stupid. You will sell more if you do this.
  • Stop researching and focus studying everything. There is no innovation in this. You will only set yourself up to fail by trying to repeat past successes.
  • Go with your gut, try things, tweak them. Let creativity drive your business.

There were many more speakers, and some really good information, but most of the rest of the stuff was very business-focused. I will spare you all those notes.

I will close with this- If you are concerned about the quality of media for kids, if you have a sneaking suspicion that there is an agenda behind some of the shows, and worried that someone out there is trying to teach values and lessons to your kids that are not in alignment with yours …you’re right.

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Liza on Maui said...

Interesting...specially, the speaker 5 insight.

Christa said...

Yikes, speakers 1 & 2 - that's just scary. And I don't even have any children that this may affect; I just see them in the store, walking to and from school on the street, at the movie theaters - and they all look so. . .old for their age. Like a bad game of grown-up.

It's very interesting to hear the perspectives of these toy people. You're right, there is an agenda there.