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Focus on 'product' lets the air out of toy fair

Sesame Street Muppets
Sesame Street Muppets  

In this story:

  • Toys changed how children play
  • Competing against Power Rangers
February 13, 1998
Web posted at: 11:25 p.m. EST (0425 GMT)

From Correspondent Maria Hinojosa

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Toy fairs sound like they should be about balloons, bubblegum and cool toys, but the annual toy fair here is about power suits, power meetings and power promotions.

In fact, it seems much less about play than about a grim quest for the bottom line.

"We come here looking primarily for innovative product," says Simon Haight, a buyer for Bradlee's. "We also come here looking for TV product."

The operative words here are "TV" and "product."

CNN's Maria Hinojosa reports.
icon 2 min. 24sec. VXtreme video

"Before, you had a lot of basic toys that were sold on their merit alone," says Haight. "Now kids are looking for toys they have seen on TV, on the shows."

Toy-selling changed in 1984 when children's television was deregulated. Toys and television shows, for the first time, could be developed and marketed together.

"Instead of having just one toy, children wanted every toy that went with the show," says Diane Levin, author of "Who's Calling the Shots."

Toys change how children play

And that, in turn, may have changed how children play.

"When children get the script of how to play from TV or a movie, they end up acting out the plots they've seen with the toys, rather than developing their own creative play," Levin says.

And that can lead to another problem.

"Violent toys get children to practice violent behaviors," says Daphne White of The Lion and the Lamb Project. "And when you give a child a gun, what are they gonna do with it?"

But for toy manufacturers, TV, movies and toys mean good business.

"If we didn't have 'Star Wars,' the movie, we wouldn't even be here," says Tim Hall of Star Wars Marketing.

And Hasbro wouldn't be making million of dollars in profits. But Hall and Hasbro say it's not about violence.

"I think we've been seeing toys like G.I. Joes or Star Wars for centuries," says Wayne Charness of Hasbro. "It's really about the battle of good versus evil, and it's a play pattern we've done for centuries."

Competing against Power Rangers

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers  

But in the toy market, the battle is between the big and the small, and the little guys who want to make educational toys find it hard to survive.

"I'm competing against Power Rangers," says Andy Farrar, president of Hand On Toys. "I'm competing against my son, who never watched a day of broadcast TV and came into my house and kicked his sister. He learned that as a Power Ranger action."

It may be almost impossible to get away from the chatter of TV and toys and commercials, but 10-year-old Nathaniel Cherniak proves it can be done.

"I usually don't watch TV and I usually don't play with my toys," he says. "I usually just read."


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