Thursday, June 28, 2007

Barbie PC 2nd-Worst PC in History

PCWorld has just released a list of the "10 worst PCs of all time," with Mattel's Barbie PC (circa 1999-2000) coming in near the top at number 2. Here's the blurb:
Back in the late 1990s, the "concept PC" was all the rage. Goodbye to boring beige boxes, hello to creative, colorful computers. But instead of being sleek and stylish, the Mattel Barbie PC was merely pink and putrid. (And her blue and yellow brother, the Hot Wheels PC, wasn't any better.)

Trying to sucker parents by gluing toy parts to a crappy low-end system is bad enough; what's worse is that Patriot Computer, which manufactured these boxes for Mattel, went belly up in December 2000. More than 3000 customers who dropped $599 on these suckers got burned.

The good news? Unlike the dolls, the Barbie PC did not feature a string that caused it to say "Math is hard" when you pulled it.

Ouch! No mention, unfortunately, of any connection this particular "concept" might have had with the concurrent mid- to late-90s movement to bridge the gender divide in computing, through the creation of girl games, after-school programs, etc. The Barbie PC is a great example of "kiddie tech" as crappy, branded versions of mainstream technologies -- it's good to see it singled out in PCWorld, since kids' stuff isn't always considered alongside "adult" or regular products, which probably contributes to lower standards in quality, design, etc.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's All Fun and Games...Isn't It?

I've read two very useful (and non-academic!) articles this week touching upon the highly philosophical issue (well, for play theoriests at least) of fun in games. Today's Slate features an article on "the trouble with serious gamies" by Justin Peters, who has this to say about the recent profile-rise of edugaming and the serious games movement:
All of these ideas are premised on the notion that video games can and should be more than mindless fun. But all of this noodling about games' untapped potential raises some philosophical questions: When does a game stop being a game and turn into an assignment? Can a game still be called a game if it isn't any fun?

He provides a good (and funny) critique of some of the corporate training and "news" games to recently enter into the foray, which include plans for work-focused MMOGs:
The California-based company called Seriosity, for one, claims to be brainstorming a virtual work environment that mimics online worlds like Second Life and World of Warcraft. "[T]oday's multiplayer games," the company explains, "embody tasks that are analogous to corporate work."

Contrast this to the awesome article in this week's The Escapist on "how-to-catch a gold farmer" (in MMOGs) written by Darius Kazemi, who approaches these issues in a slightly different way. Here, Kazemi describes how gold farmers "play" MMOGs in a way that is immediately distinct from that of other (legitimate?) players:
You might believe a gold farmer could easily hide among the millions of other characters on a server, like a needle in a haystack. But farmers behave fundamentally differently than a normal player. The farmer isn't trying to have fun. In fact, if you look at the act of farming, it's probably the most boring thing you can imagine. But it's efficient, and efficiency is what the farmers are optimizing for. That efficient boredom sticks out like a sore thumb.

It's great to see this level of philosophical discussion unfold within more mainstream publications--I can't wait to see what readers...and especially players...think of the fun in games debate. There are game theorists, like T.L Taylor, who posit that MMOGs are "more than a game"...that virtual environments contain such a variety of social, communicative, even economic and political activities and meanings that they are best understood (and approached) as extensions of everyday life. From my understanding of this argument, scholars in this camp would fairly readily accept that an MMOG could (should?) provide a space for work-relations or even production. However, other theorists (myself included) are more in tune with Peters and Kazemi...maintaining that play and games--while certainly not exclusive of the communicative activities of everyday life--must also operate within a fundamentally differentiated state of mind or being in order to truly qualify as "play"...i.e. fun! These scholars are trying to capture/theorize the essence or uniqueness of play, and make space for the value of play and fun within larger debates around gaming. I find it immensely interesting that MMOG operators can identify famers by the lack of fun in their play patterns. Of course, all this opens up other issues, such as the impact of commodification/exchange value on the nature of MMOG play, the possibility for a dissolution of the traditional (modern, industrial) boundaries between work and play (playful work? productive play?), and various of other questions that currently drive and shape game studies.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Disney Done with Direct-To-DVD

From the Post Gazette, news of yet another massive change over at Disney which, under the new management and strategic vision of Pixar greats John Lasseter and Steve Jobs (yes, the Apple Inc. Steve Jobs), is getting what appears to be the corporate version of Extreme Makeover. Here's an excerpt from the article:
In a major strategy shift, the Walt Disney Co. said it will stop making lucrative direct-to-DVD sequels of such classic animated films as "Cinderella," a move that reflects the growing influence of former Pixar Animation executives John Lasseter and Steve Jobs, who once called the films "embarrassing."

The change comes with a shake-up at the company's DisneyToon Studios, including the removal of longtime president Sharon Morrill, who will continue with the company in another capacity, Disney said last week.

DisneyToon Studios will become part of Walt Disney Feature Animation and report directly to Animation president Ed Catmull and Lasseter, who assumed roles there after Disney bought Pixar Animation Studio last year for $7.4 billion in stock.

DisneyToon will now only produce original DVD films, including the upcoming film starring the fairy Tinkerbell. "Little Mermaid III," currently in production, will be the last DVD sequel released.

In the past, both Lasseter and Jobs have expressed quite a bit of contempt for Disney's direct-to-video productions, a sentiment which was carried forth into yesterday's announcement. "We feel sick about Disney doing sequels," Jobs said. "If you look at the quality of their sequels ... it's pretty embarrassing." I suppose, however, that this comment does not apply to (Pixar's) full-release sequels like Toy Story 2, or the upcoming Toy Story 3.

This is pretty big news: The direct-to-DVD-sequel strategy has been quite lucrative for the Disney company, who began the practice in 1994 with The Return of Jafar...which by 1997 had sold more than 10 million units. Profits for the Aladdin sequels alone have grossed more than $250 million (a second direct-to-video sequel, Aladdin and the King of Theives, was released 2 years later). Overall, the company is cutting out what is surely a multi-billion dollar revenue generator, which is both a surprising move for the media giant, as well as one which could result in quite a shift within the kids' media environment. To find out more about the potential impact this announcement could have, you can read articles on the evolution of the kids' direct-to-video/DVD market--which is by far the most lucrative demographic for this medium--from 1997-2005, here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

CARU Focuses in on Online Marketing

From KidAdLaw, a short article on the Children's Advertising Review Unit's (CARU) recent efforts to better regulate online marketing to kids. Here's an excerpt:
The Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), urged to more actively police online marketing activities to stave off regulation, increasingly has begun looking at marketers' online activities aimed at kids. CARU, an arm of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc., recently recommended that the operator of a social networking site, Flip.com, and NIKE6.com change their online practices.

The article goes on to describe a few of CARU's recent rulings (re: Flip.com and NIKE6.com), along with the companies/site owners' responses. There's not all that much new information here, but it's a good reminder of the CARU and its activities, complete with links to the press releases for these rulings and the CARU's database--which is an excellent resource for those interested in mapping the trajectory of kids' ads regulation in the US, finding out what the most common infringements are, and identifying the most frequent offenders. Online marketers, of course, must comply to COPPA (which the CARU monitors), but it's really interesting to see the other types of cases that come up. I've found the companies' responses to be most enlightening - check them out for yourself here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Glubble...for Kids!

By way of Stefanie Olsen at CNet, news today about a new Firefox browser add-on called "Glubble" that aims to help "parents keep their kids in a safe Web-surfing sandbox." Glubble--short for "global bubble" (as in keep your kids in a bubble)--launched in BETA form on Tuesday, and is described by Olsen as:
[E]ssentially a white list, or collection of pre-approved sites, for the Web browser. By downloading the Firefox plug-in, parents can control their kids' experience online by choosing which sites they can visit and with whom they can chat. Designed for children under 12, the browser extension filters out all other sites, and maintains personalized preferences for parents and individual children. It even offers a version of Google that searches only the pre-approved sites.

Eek! That could either take ages for parents and kids to negotiate and pre-program/customize (and update!), or else result in some major censoring of valuable tools and information, numerous parent-child misunderstandings and frustrations, oversights, bias (intentional/unintentional), etc. etc. Even the kids-safety people seem skeptical about the effectiveness of this type of blocker-tool. While allowing that Glubble could "be helpful for younger children,"
Safekids.com founder Larry Magid opined that,
"At some point, kids need to be given a longer leash with guidance so they can develop critical thinking skills and get training to be safer as they get older. Also, a savvy 11-year old could just launch Internet Explorer."

They certainly could.

In other, related news, the Kaiser Family Foundation has just launched a new report revealing that parents feel they are gaining control over their kids' media consumption and exposure. While parents are still calling for tighter restrictions (particularly governmental) on violence and "inappropriate" content in media, they nonetheless feel more involved and have a better understanding of their children's media activities than they did in 1998. From the report press release:
Parents are particularly confident in monitoring their children’s online activities. Nearly three out of four parents (73%) say they know "a lot" about what their kids are doing online (among all parents with children 9 or older who use the Internet at home). Most parents whose children engage in these activities say they check their children’s Instant Messaging (IM) "buddy lists" (87%), review their children’s profiles on social networking sites (82%), and look to see what websites they’ve visited (76%) after they’ve gone online.

Internet filters and cyber-nannies have existed for awhile, and Glubble doesn't seem to offer that much more in terms of ensuring kids' maintain access to fair information, freedom of expression and serendipitous opportunities for creativity and community. I'll refer you again to Boyd and Jenkins' discussion of DOPA for further discussion of some of the dangers of automated filtering technologies. In the meantime, the finding that parents are becoming more engaged and cyber-literate is an extremely encouraging development...particularly for regulatory strategies that incorporate dialogue, negotiation and parent-child participation over a technologically-enforced rationalization (and, let's face it, most often also commercialization) of kids' online experience.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nicktropolis Hits 4 Million Mark

According to a Nickelodeon press release distributed yesterday, the company's child-targeted, TV-themed MMOG Nicktropolis has attracted just under 4 million unique members since its launch in January. This month also marks the launch of two new areas within the site, including "environments" (i.e. "chat" rooms, streaming media and shops) based on the hit Nickelodeon show The Naked Brothers Band, and a Space-themed environment that portends to actually offer some multiplayer games! This last bit of news is of particular interest to me, as since I started my research on the site earlier this year, I have yet to find anything to do there, other than chat with other users via predesignated, and often branded (i.e. sayings and lines from Nickelodeon shows), phrases, or "interact" with Nickelodeon brands--by standing around in show-themed rooms, clicking on the odd object for pop-up-book-quality interactivity, shopping for furniture and things to put in my room (again, many of which are show-themed), or watching commercials and clips from Nickelodeon shows. So far, the site has been pretty underwhelming, but the company keeps promising new and better features. Such as the new space area which is described as follows (from the press release):
The new space themed environment, launching on Nicktropolis will allow kids to navigate and "fly" on a space ship from downtown Nicktropolis into the Space Center. With state of the art Nicktropolis Space Center auto pilot enabled, users can steer the ship to different locations within the Space Center. They will also be able to play the first true Nicktropolis multiplayer online game. Users had the opportunity to vote on three possible new zones for the site, choosing among a Space Center, Underground and Prehistoric Nicktropolis. Out of nearly 1 million votes in one week, 46% voted for the new space world. The site also recently added a new "Aquarium" area featuring separate sub environments like "Lost Ships," "Undersea Volcanos," and "The Castle Ruins," along with the ability to create, care for and play with your own pet fish. In its first two weeks, more than 500,000 individual fish were created.

I'm currently writing a paper about this and other similar sites that attempt to bring popular kids' television shows and/or channels to the virtual environment, under the guise of MMOGs. So far, the best of the bunch (in terms of an MMOG that actually looks and feels a little like a "real" MMOG) has been YTV/Corus' GalaxSeeds, but in that case gameplay is severely limited by a lack of population base...and the fact that in the early stages at least, currency can only be acquired by playing mini-games, most of which require the simultaneous participation of two or more players. As with many of these initiatives, I'm disappointed with the overall "dumbed down" feeling that design firms seem to think is a necessary component/consequence of enhanced safety features. If "safe" is going to translate to limitations on kids' communications and interactions with other players, it seems to me that this needs to be compensated for by adding in alternative ways of expressing oneself and collaborating with others...or at the very least having fun beyond mere point-and-click interactions with glorified ads.

Monday, June 18, 2007

New Book Alert: "Cheating" by Mia Consalvo

Today I got word about the release of a new book on cheating in digital gaming by Mia Consalvo, Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies with the School of Telecommunications at Ohio University. Consalvo already has an impressive list of publications on gaming and MMOGs, including a great chapter on The Sims Online that I recently had the chance to read, and this book has been widely anticipated by members of the game studies community. Here's the book description from the publisher's website:

The widely varying experiences of players of digital games challenge the notions that there is only one correct way to play a game. Some players routinely use cheat codes, consult strategy guides, or buy and sell in-game accounts, while others consider any or all of these practices off limits. Meanwhile, the game industry works to constrain certain readings or activities and promote certain ways of playing. In Cheating, Mia Consalvo investigates how players choose to play games and what happens when they can't always play the way they'd like. She explores a broad range of player behavior, including cheating (alone and in groups), examines the varying ways that players and industry define cheating, describes how the game industry itself has helped systematize cheating, and studies online cheating in context in an online ethnography of Final Fantasy XI. She develops the concept of "gaming capital" as a key way to understand individuals' interaction with games, information about games, the game industry, and other players.

Consalvo provides a cultural history of cheating in videogames, looking at how the packaging and selling of such cheat-enablers as cheat books, GameSharks, and mod chips created a cheat industry. She investigates how players themselves define cheating and how their playing choices can be understood, with particular attention to online cheating. Finally, she examines the growth of the peripheral game industries that produce information about games rather than actual games. Digital games are spaces for play and experimentation; the way we use and think about digital games, Consalvo argues, is crucially important and reflects ethical choices in gameplay and elsewhere.

In other news, the winners of this year's Children's Emmy Awards have been announced. You can check out the list here.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Kellogg's Out of the Kids Ads Game? Not Quite

In the aftermath of yesterday's big announcement that Kellogg will now restrict itself from advertising sugary cereals to kids under 12 years (which also resulted in the lawsuit against them being dropped), I thought I'd briefly gather together some of the news items and "inside scoop" on how it all went down. The planned lawsuit against Kellogg's involved not only individual parents, but also the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The company was in negotiations with these organizations for over a year--you can read the CCFC press release here, and the Kellogg press release here. And while the CCFC admits that Kellogg's new policy "doesn’t go as far as we would like" it should nonetheless be considered as "a tacit admission that the advertising practices favored by the food industry have had a powerful influence on children’s food choices and have had a negative effect on children’s health and well-being." As per the CCFC press release, here are the details of their agreement:
Foods advertised on media—including TV, radio, print, and third-party websites—that have an audience of 50 percent or more children under age 12 will have to meet Kellogg’s new nutrition standards, which require that one serving of the food has:
• No more than 200 calories;
• No trans fat and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat;
• No more than 230 milligrams of sodium (except for Eggo frozen waffles);
• No more than 12 grams of sugar (excluding sugar from fruit, dairy, and vegetables).

In addition, Kellogg will not:
• Advertise to children under 12 in schools and preschools.
• Sponsor product placements for any products in any medium primarily directed at kids under 12;
• Use licensed characters on mass-media advertising directed primarily to kids under 12, as a basis for a food form, or on the front labels of food packages unless those foods meet the nutrition standards;
• Use branded toys in connection with foods that do not meet the nutrition standards.

What does this all mean for the kids' commercial media environment? Since ads for sugar cereals and other food products make up the bulk of advertising shown during children's programming, cuts in ads without alternative funding sources (alternative funding please!) could (would) mean far less revenue and incentive to broadcast kids' shows...or at least that's what the industry threatens (admittedly, this has happened before, when the FCC and CAB implemented those first bans on kids' tv advertising in the 1970s, and commercial kids' tv programming took a nose-dive....although it also resulted in the birth of a number of high-quality, publicly-funded children's programs). While the press is already calling foul, the reality is much less dramatic. Kellogg's ban on kids' advertising will only apply to "unhealthy" products, and since they plan on cutting the sugar content, as well as fat, trans fat and salt contents from all of its existing products, the decision is unlikely to have much of an effect on their advertising practices. As the Globe and Mail's McKenna writes:
Kellogg, along with its Canadian subsidiary, said that by the end of next year all of its products will be reformulated to meet new, tougher health standards or they won't be advertised to children under the age of 12.

The company also vowed to stop using cartoon characters, such as Shrek or Tony the Tiger, for products that fall short of the new standard.

Still, I agree with the CCFC that it's good to see the food industries on the defensive. After years of denying any correlation between increases in kids' advertising and concurrent increases in childhood obesity rates, a new stance that not only includes augmenting the nutritional value of kids' foods but also acknowledging the possibility that the millions of dollars the industry spends advertising to young children might actually have some sort of impact on their food preferences, might be just what the CCFC and similar campaigns need to initiate policy revisions in North America.

Here are links to some of yesterday's coverage:
CBS News
MSNBC
NPR
Globe and Mail
CBC
YPulse
Shaping Youth

Thursday, June 14, 2007

CFP: Kermit Culture: Perspectives on Jim Henson's Muppets

This came to my attention much too late to make a contribution, but if anyone has a Muppets paper kicking around, you might want to consider submitting it (the deadline for abstracts is tomorrow!):

Kermit Culture: Perspectives on Jim Henson's Muppets

Anissa M. Graham and Jennifer C. Garlen seek contributors for a collection of essays considering Jim Henson's Muppets. All aspects of The Muppet Show and other productions or performances featuring the Muppets may be considered, although the editors particularly seek proposals for articles focusing on the original Muppet Show cast of characters. Papers may consider the various films featuring the Muppets, episodes of the original show, Muppets Tonight, appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, particular characters from these programs, their significance as cultural icons, etc. This collection of essays will attempt to demonstrate the importance of The Muppets' influence and appeal, as well as their importance to popular culture studies as a whole.

Some potential subjects of interest include: consumption as recurring motif on The Muppet Show; commentary on stagecraft; the significance of the British-only sketches excluded from American broadcasts of The Muppet Show; representations of science; gender issues, voyeurism, nationhood and the representation of nationalism; literary adaptation in Muppet films; parody; images of the monstrous and deformity.http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.spell.gif

Proposals should be 150-200 words in length. Please include contact information with the proposal, including academic affiliation, if any. Please title the subject line of the proposal "Kermit Culture" to ensure speedy response, and include the proposal as the text of the email message as well as in attachment form.

DEADLINE FOR PROPOSALS: June 15, 2007

The editors hope to have complete articles ready for submission to publishers by Fall 2007 and will be discussing the project with potential publishers as soon as possible.

Prospective contributors may send proposals or complete articles to:

Anissa M. Graham, University of North Alabama, anissa.graham_at_gmail.com
Jennifer C. Garlen, University of Alabama-Huntsville, garlenj_at_email.uah.edu

(Please cc proposals to both editors!)

My hope here is that this might launch some more academic interest in Jim Henson's modest but immensely influential body of work. I've read some excellent analyses of Muppet Babies and Jim Henson's The Storyteller by Jack Zipes, and there is of course that great article on Sesame Street by Heather Hendershot, but there is otherwise a shocking lack of critical, communication/media studies-based analysis of these texts and their lasting cultural impact. I would love to do something on the openness of Henson's narratives and how they work to promote playful and creative re-interpretations by child (and adult!) audiences.

And, speaking of Muppets and puppets, I'd like to give a shout out to Calgary-based The Old Trout Puppet Workshop who are currently touring the hilarious and macabre Famous Puppet Death Scenes, which I had the good luck to see last week in Ottawa...an absolute must-see if you get the chance.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Parental Fears and The Good Childhood Inquiry

The Children's Society, a British charity focused on providing assistance to "those forgotten children who face the greatest danger, discrimination or disadvantage in their daily lives"--including kids in trouble with the law or on the streets, disabled children and young refugees--have released the first of six reports detailing the findings of a large survey they are conducting into the lives and well-being of UK children. Entitled The Good Childhood Inquiry, their study will explore six major themes that link back directly to children's quality of life (or "good childhood"): friends, family, learning, lifestyle, health and values. The first report, focusing on "friends", had some interesting things to say about the changing spaces and roles of peers and play in contemporary childhood. Released on the heels of their June 5th announcement about teens and best friends (fewer have them today than 20 years ago), this new report paints a grim picture of over-protective parents and tightening restrictions on children's interactions with friends as well as public space.

For example, approximately 43% of adult respondents said children should not be allowed out with friends until they were 14. Despite the fact that friends and socializing topped kids' lists of what made them the happiest, they also felt that they never had enough time to play (or "hang out") with their peers. Cited in the BBC's coverage of the report, The Children's Society's chief executive, Bob Reitmeier, had this to say:
"Children have told us loud and clear that friendship matters and yet this is an area in which we appear to be failing them. As a society we are in a real quandary. On the one hand we want freedom for our children, but on the other we are becoming increasingly frightened to let them out."

He added: "If we go too far down the road of being over-protective and not allowing children to explore, to play, to be up with their peers, but also with children of other ages, then we may be influencing the way in which they look at society and social interaction later on."


This theme came up again and again in the report itself, which describes kids' own thoughts on the subject:
Children need spaces in which they can pursue their own agendas, stated one submission. In another, it was believed that the demonisation of young people and antisocial behaviour policies deprive children of opportunities to socialise and make them more isolated as they retreat into ‘virtual worlds’.

Read more coverage of the report by anastasia on Totally Wired, by Dr Helene Guldberg on spiked, or on the BBC.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Girls and Indoor Play

A curious article on girls and virtual doll sites appeared in the New York Times last week, which both examines the phenomenon, as well as communicates some sort of disembodied (where does it come from?) enthusiasm for media content that keeps girls safely occupied indoors. What initially caught my eye was the predominantly celebratory tone of the article, which stands out in contrast to the current media emphasis on spreading moral panics about the dangers of social networking and the online environment when it comes to younger children. As Richtel and Stone describe,
Millions of children and adolescents are spending hours on these sites, which offer virtual versions of traditional play activities and cute animated worlds that encourage self-expression and safe communication. They are, in effect, like Facebook or MySpace with training wheels, aimed at an audience that may be getting its first exposure to the Web.

While the article does mention the advertising/marketing dimension of sites like WeeWorld, Stardoll, Club Penguin and BarbieGirls.com, the overall argument comes across as quite positive, a tone that is reflected in the article's title, "Doll Web Sites Drive Girls to Stay Home and Play." However, the celebratory tone and opening emphasis on "self-expression" seem somewhat at odds with the rest of the article's contents. For example, many of the sites targeted at younger children mentioned in the article have implemented fairly tight restrictions on self-expression and communication between (young) members. The article even quotes Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Club Penguin, outright rejecting comparisons between his site and the social-networking sites popular among teens, stating, "We’re the antithesis of MySpace. MySpace is about sharing information. We’re all about not being able to share information."

As with previous coverage of virtual doll sites, Richtel and Stone focus on the popularity of the sites among female users/players: "[Lauren] Bigelow [general manager of WeeWorld] said that 60 percent of WeeWorld users are girls and young women, a proportion that is higher on some other sites. Stardoll said that its users are 93 percent female, typically ages 7 to 17, while Cartoon Doll Emporium said that it is 96 percent female, ages 8 to 14." Which might explain some of the apparent contradictions...I can't help but fixate on the article's underlying suggestion that the sites are somehow desirable because they give girls a reason to "stay home and play." Even though the article ends with a quote from Sherry Turkle advising parents to send their kids next door on a play date rather than "letting your kid sit at the computer" (she also criticizes the sites' commercial aspects, but this is not explored in any great detail), I can't help but read here an underlying linkage between girls and domesticity, between ideal girls' play as indoor play. Nonetheless, the article has some useful stats, including:

You should also check out Hitwise's new stats on kids online, which include the following:

JupiterResearch on Tweens & Cell Phones

Last week, Jupiter Research released the results of a new study on tweens and mobile phones (check out some of the original coverage by anastasia and webpronews), predicting that tweens will be the next big US market for cell phones and mobile technologies. The market research firm believes that "safety" will be the key driving force of this expanding market, as parents purchase mobile phones for their kids in order to enable constant and immediate (remote) contact. According to Jupiter's Research Director, Julie Ask, (cited in the press release)
"Cell phone ownership is extending to ever-younger children as prices drop and carriers look to add subscribers in a market where adult penetration rates are closing in on their long-term maximum. The majority of children with cell phones are on their parents' wireless service plan well into adulthood due to the economics and convenience of adding family members to plans. Wireless service providers have made it an easy decision for parents to add their second graders by allowing family members to share minutes, adding free in-network calling, and offering options that help parents track their children and manage service costs."

With all the new cells for kids and tweens coming out this year and last, Jupiter's prediction is not exactly earth shattering...they're either tapping into some of the same trends uncovered by the children's industries' market researchers, or perhaps discovering the influence these products (and surrounding advertisements) are already exerting on public perception. Either way, they foresee "dramatic" growth in tween's cell phone adoption over the next 12 months.

That said, however, the report also found that "parents are still reluctant to add children younger than 10, believing it's unnecessary." To this, Jupiter Research President David Schatsky replies, "Mobile communications may be gaining wider acceptance, but it's clear there is still a line that consumers, especially parents of younger children, aren't quite ready to cross." For him, the answer lies in parents' different understandings of "safety and security," which appear to vary significantly depending on the age of the child. Schatsky explains, "For older teens, the catalyst may be going away to college for the first time, for younger teens, it may be the convenience of a parent being able to reach the child. Whatever the definition, it is apparent that it is applied differently based on the age of a child."

Very brief summaries of the research are available on the Jupiter site,
here, as is an overview of another report on the predicted growth of infotainment as a mobile feature/industry.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Abby Cadabby: Fairies on Sesame Street


Cashing in on the "fairy craze" (is it an official "fad" yet?), Sesame Workshop has announced plans to introduce a new muppet character next season named "Abby Cadabby". Described as an "inquisitive 3-year-old" "pink fairy-in-training", the Abby Cadabby character will blend the usual Sesame Street learning activities with fairy tales and magical themes. According to Emily Claire Afan, she will also help sell JCPenny clothes for newborns, infants and toddlers, as well as an array of other goods carrying the "Abby Cadabby" image (coming in July). For further details on my own conflicted feelings about Sesame Workshop's contemporary business practices, see my previous post. Here's the full character description from the Sesame Workshop press kit:
Abby Cadabby is an inquisitive 3-year-old fairy-in-training who has just moved to Sesame Street from Fairyside, Queens. The daughter of a Fairy Godmother, she is learning magic but is not quite proficient yet and has a propensity for turning things into pumpkins with her "training wand." She has come from a storybook world and is well-versed in fairytales, as they are a part of her family history. Abby loves to practice her magic and rhyming, but what she finds truly amazing and magical is what she discovers on Sesame Street; such as learning to count and drawing a letter with a crayon. These new things are utterly enchanting to her and she will often say "That's so magic!" She is shy yet curious when she first meets the inhabitants of Sesame Street. She wonders if Snuffy is a "mountain" and if Big Bird is a "giant." Despite her initial shyness, she makes many new friends, including Elmo, Zoe, and Rosita. They in turn are delighted and fascinated with Abby; that she can "pop" in and out, that she floats when she is happy, and that she has beautiful wings. In Season 37 Abby attends school for the first time at the Storybook Community School and is very excited about going.

Another item for the Fairy Trend Watch list, it would seem, and this one coming from (I think) the most unlikely of sources. Cogent thoughts on the matter to come once I'm back from Ottawa next week.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Neopets Media Convergence: Neovision

Announcements for two new Neopets projects came out today, dealing with the brand's transition into television or webivision media...which the company has cleverly named "Neovision". The first, posted by Kidscreen, is a joint initiative with Nickelodeon, which will launch a series of "animated Neopets Mini-Shows" starting on June 23. The mini-shows will "introduce" (who hasn't heard of Neopets?!?) Nick-viewers to the website/MMOG, and give out clues that will unlock special games (advergames?) on the site.

The second item of interest can be found on Mediaweek (courtesy of anastasia at YPulse), which describes Neopets' new "broadband video player" feature ("Neovision"), which will showcase members' user-generated content "along with the site’s first stab at original fare--some of which will crossover to TV." The link between the two? You guessed it = synergy! According to Mediaweek:
Besides enhancing the Web site, those new Mini-Shows are heading to TV, as Nickelodeon will begin running various clips on June 23 to fill the gaps between its popular shows, and presumably to keep kids around during commercial breaks. The June launch marks the first time that Neopets, which parent company Viacom acquired nearly two years ago, has found its content make its way onto the network. "The Neopets Mini-Shows bring together Nickelodeon's powerhouse of expertise in making content for kids and tweens with the talented creative team at the Neopets studio," said Kyra Reppen, Neopets’ senior vp and general manager.

Neovision launched yesterday, and while I haven't had a chance to check it out, I am already intrigued by the research potential of this development and how well it fits into my thesis' focus on "child-generated content" in the converging digital media environment. Also, oddly enough, I've recently returned to playing Neopets: The Darkest Faerie on the PS2. The stars seem to be aligning to once again keep Neopets a prominent figure in my thesis research. *sigh*