Monday, 27 October 2008

Toys on trial

Recently I posted here about Cousin H, who has landed the rather plum job of designing toys for In the Night Garden.


The other week he enquired whether he could ‘borrow’ the Littleboys one morning – as a kind of mini toddler focus group for some of the toys that are currently in development. We jumped at the chance – well, why turn down free entertainment?


He subsequently turned up on Saturday in a taxi laden with a mind-boggling number of ITNG toys all of all descriptions: Upsy Daisy-themed ride on cars; Pontypine stacking blocks, and an Iggle Piggle etchasketch among them.


Some of the other exciting products I am not even allowed to reveal because they are still at the ‘drawing board’ stage – these had to be smuggled back to the Beeb in the taxi, but suffice to say that they are the cutting edge of toddler-facing design.


But the Littleboys did get to keep a rather astonishing number, and for them it was as if Christmas came early (even if Santa was a thirtysomething curly-haired guy in trainers rather than the traditional merry gent). And Cousin H got his research done, looking on earnestly as they played manically with the toys, helpfully tested their sturdiness with their usual throw-fest and fought over the ones they liked best.


Our house is now stuffed with toys that could well be next year’s Christmas bestsellers (it did make me laugh last year when the ‘In the Night Garden Little Library’ constantly appeared in the top 10 books charts alongside the latest Booker winners and celebrity memoirs).


This is, after all, big business for kids’ telly. Work-wise, I’ve just been writing an article on kids’ TV (for once, an appropriate subject for me to write about, since I sit through so much of the stuff). I had to look at how children’s programming is faring following the junk food advertising ban, the entry of multiple digital kids’ channels to the UK and so forth. The answer is not well – over the past few years broadcasters have drastically cut their budgets for original programming (ie., the stuff that’s not US imports or repeats). But, as one broadcasting pundit pointed out to me, create a hit show from which you can create toys under licence – ITNG being a classic example – and you’ve struck children’s TV gold, recouping the cash that goes into funding quality shows.


So if all these TV-themed toys are funding the next Night Garden or Charlie and Lola, rather than promoting the cause of rubbishy cartoons, I guess that it can only be a good thing.

11 comments:

Mud in the City said...

I've never seen ITNG. Am I a social pariah?

(Great word verification by the way: CORIBUCK!)

Potty Mummy said...

First off, Mud you are lucky, not a pariah. Secondly, NVG, if you want a kids marketing consultant's take on the subject matter you're writing on (albeit nearly 3 years out of date since that's when I stopped working), get in touch. It's an interesting world you're looking at...

Iota said...

Hear hear! I speak as someone who can only offer her kids endless cartoons, or Drake and Josh (which we banned after my 4 year old asked me "why shouldn't you ever tell a girl you love her?" and started swearing "because the little sister on Drake and Josh swears"). That's not quite the whole story - but if I want to let her have decent kids' tv, I have to buy a dvd, or be super-organised and record it when it is on (which may well be the small hours), and then it is just the occasional programme, not the great array that you get on CBeebies or CBBC. What I miss from the UK is intelligent programme scheduling, and a choice of decent programmes. If merchandising allows that to happen, I'll live with it.

When we first arrived here, I got a friend to record a day's worth of CBeebies, and I tell you, there was more quality stuff in one day on CBeebies than in a week of careful sifting and sorting here.

nappy valley girl said...

Hi Mud - PM is right, count your lucky stars. ITNG is mind-numbingly dull for an adult to watch, despite featuring the voice of Sir Derek Jacobi (It's fabulous for keeping small children quiet, though.)

PM - thanks. Annoyingly, I've actually just finished that particular article, but I do write regularly about marketing, so will definitely be picking your brains if another kids-related feature comes up in future....

Iota - agreed, we are lucky that the licence fee system and public service broadcasting commitments allow the quality of programming we have over here. I have another friend in the US who gets her parents to send out recordings of CBeebies! I'll have to start stockpiling DVDs ahead of next year...

TC said...

What's not to love about Night Garden? A big marshmellowy blob with a love of rocks, mini people who swarm over the flaura like termintes and a large-headed blue creature with a blankie.
Genius!

Millennium Housewife said...

Save the toys! A fortune to be made on ebay next year when nobody can find them for love or money. Hint: only accept money, not love. MH

dulwichmum said...

My children love "In the Night Garden" and we shall no doubt be looking to buy all of these things come Christmas! What fun!

The Dotterel said...

Mine, too - both aged 10 years and ten months. Mind you, so do I. Quality stuff, and decidedly 'trippy' too.

nappy valley girl said...

TC - my children certainly love it....

MH - don't worry, I will be making secret notes of their real value!

DM - these will be welcome words for Cousin H.....

Dottorel - it is indeed trippy; like all the best children's programmes from Magic Roundabout onwards. In the words of Meg Ryan, I'll have what they're having...

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Great, now I feel less guilty in indulging in plasticy gimmicky things for CHristmas as it keeps programming original. Great argument to store for a future sneery mums group!
I love Maka Paka. He just goes around washing people doesn't he?
Cbeebies rocks by the way...even their magazines have educational pull out sections...less guilt for mummy!

Jaywalker said...

Back of CTTF, Makka Pakka is mine.

NVG - I tagged you.