March 21, 2006

Sesame Beginnings: Extending The Brand

sesame_beginnings.jpgYou know that barebones, built-in commercial overkill and child media saturation filter that most parents have, the one that goes, "Well, if it's Sesame Street, it must be OK, right?" Somehow, after years of Elmosploitation merchandising and the Children's Television Workshop characters on the kid's Pampers from Day One, I have still retained some sense that Sesame Street and the folks behind it are somehow different, and that I can trust them that their programming will somehow be "better" for my precious child than all that insipid, mind-numbing, licensing-driven, and only allegedly "educational" schlock out there. After all, aren't I part of the first generation of parents to have grown up watching Sesame Street myself? So it must be good.

Which is awesome, because that's just the kind of strong brand profile that CTW's planning to leverage, and the media wallet they're trying to get a larger share of is mine and my demo. The brand managers on Sesame Street should be wetting their pants with glee right now.

Because I should be totally behind Sesame Beginnings, their new DVD series targeting babies ages 0-2, which were developed in collaboration with another highly respected, not-for-profit child development organization, Zero-to-Three.

And since the DVD's come from brands I trust, the business case goes, I won't mind that there is absolutely no data showing that exposing children to TV before they even know what it is has any benefits at all, and that includes all the talk of giving a kid an educational/developmental leg up, the kind of talk that scares less confident parents and stokes the fires of more competitive ones. And with some carefully worded disclaimer about how the DVD's aren't "educational," they're just meant "to promote healthy development" and "to connect with parents in ways that meet them in their daily realities," I'll hopefully overlook the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that kids watch NO TV at all before age 2?

Of course, if an expert as well-known as Terry Brazelton--who co-founded Zero-to-Three 30 years ago--condemns the videos as inappropriate, and if other critics worry about the unstudied effects of TV on infant sleep patterns and language development, plus the substitution effects of what kids aren't doing when they're parked in front of a screen, then what? Just say that everyone's already doing it, so why not go with the best DVD's for babies out there? Because that's basically what it boils down to.

Ironically, this post was brought to you by Sesame Street, which has my kid enthralled at this very moment, thus enabling me to type and my wife to whip up some penne quattro formaggio. Conflicted much? Just wait till I start making fifty cents off of the Amazon links below.

Experts rip 'Sesame' TV aimed at tiniest tots [washingtonpost/msnbc via robotwisdom]
Sesame Beginnings DVD's are about $10 a piece at Amazon. I mean, IF you were to buy them... [amazon]
Previously: Kaiser Studies Kids 0-6: Media? They're Soaking In It.


From the promo copy my husband found at work, I got the impression this series was more for parents who needed a help learning how to be a parent. Not really for overeducated hyper-parents and their kids. More for parents who might not ever pick up a book on parenting or child development but might sit with their kid and watch tv. I'm not sure how successful these videos would be at reaching those parents, but the songs are damn infectious. I cannot get "Who's That Baby Looking in the Mirror?" out of my head after hearing it once. Damn you CTW!

these folks that cling religiously to the doctrine of NO TV before age 2 remind me of the folks that refuse to acknowledge sex-ed and just keep repeating the mantra that abstinence is the best form of birth control.

No TV before age 2 may be the recommendation but it is not the reality for the vast majority of families. Sometimes you just have to park the kid in front of the TV so you can sit nearby and get a little housework done. So, as you say, it might as well be quality viewing and we might as well start to investigate what IS quality viewing via scientific not anecdotal evidence.

This from my pediatrician: 'The AAP recommendations for no tv under 2 are not based on any good evidence of harmful effects on children. They are meant to act as a deterrent to people who would let their children watch 6 hours of tv a day. To be honest they are unrealistic expectations.'I would like to see these studies claiming effects on langauage development and sleep patterns. What other variables were included in the analysis on language/sleep effects? Thousands would have to be statistially controlled for to come up with TV as the causative. My issue with the available evidence and scientific proof.

relax, anon. Everyone who doesn't have a dvd to sell acknowledges that there's zero research on the effects of media on 0-2yo's. Last year's Kaiser study was the first to even look at what media 0-2yo's were getting.

The reality is, MD's and the AAP use their weight and authoritative power to influence people on things that MIGHT be harmful; it's a conservative/cautious position driven, for the moment, by the LACK of research. Meanwhile, media producers use their marketing weight to make all kinds of near-promises about potential benefits for kids, even though there's NO research. Parents still have to inform themselves, weigh the factors, and make their own decisions.

The last number I remember for Sesame's licensing was about $100mm/yr. Baby Einstein's at $200mm and is, of course, owned by Disney. I'm sure that Sesame is feeling threatened in its decades-long leadership of the "good-for-you" media market. Elmo was created to address the same competitive pressure and help Sesame Street reach a younger (2-3-4 yo) audience, too, so this is not unexpected or new.

But a 0-2yo is exposed to only the media a parent chooses for him, and if someone chooses "zero" for his kid, that's totally his prerogative. Jay. If he preaches abstinence-only for everyone until preschool, though, he's obviously a tool.

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