The increasingly segmented children's video category is seeing a swelling torrent of educational videos hitting store shelves.
Many grocers have yet to get behind this subcategory of videos in a meaningful way. To reach that point, video companies need to provide high-quality product and marketing support, and parents need to make their desires known to store managers, observers told SN.
As for retailers themselves, they need to realize that a product with strong perceived value -- and that parents feel good about buying routinely and as gifts -- will always justify the floor space, they said.
These products are proliferating. Citing the DVD Release Report newsletter, Andrew Mun, spokesman for Video Software Dealers Association, Encino, Calif., pointed out that there were 499 children's non-feature titles released on DVD in 2004, representing 4.29% of all titles released. For 2005, as of Oct. 28, there have been 485 children's non-feature titles released, representing 4.88% of all titles released.
The DVD Release Report also pointed out that the number of non-feature children's titles has grown from 89 in 2002 to 288 in 2003 and 499 in 2004. The educational material provided runs the gamut from basic reading and math skills to history, the environment, language, and even moral and religious teachings.
"Children's educational videos continue to be popular with our customers, whether they are purchasing them for their own children, or as gifts for the new mothers or children in their lives," said Karen Burk, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark. "Some titles that are popular include Baby Einstein, Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob, Baby Genius, Disney's series including Baby Da Vinci and Baby Monet, LeapFrog and Classical Baby."
Wal-Mart has expanded this category "slightly," according to Burk, "to reflect the demand and to offer the breadth of selections our customers are wanting. The age group these titles pertain to include infants to preteens with most available for under $10."
Carl Day, owner of Day's Market Place, a one-store operation in Heber City, Utah, said he carries a few educational titles, "maybe four or five, but not many." Day's does sell-through only, with a video display wall of about 24 feet.
Day emphasized that he is "absolutely" open to programs involving educational product. "We are very much a family-oriented grocery store. Customer service is No. 1 in our book, and families are what it's all about," he said.
"With the growth of the electronic learning aids and other products, learning-based DVDs provide another great learning tool for children," said Susan McLain, vice president, brand marketing and product management, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Burbank, Calif.
Bill Bryant, vice president, sales, Ingram Entertainment, LaVergne, Tenn., calls $14.95 a "major price point" among this type of video product, and noted that much of the older catalog is priced at $9.98.
"There is actually a lot more competition than we had when we first started with our videos and DVDs around 1986," said Heather Hanssen, director, video business development, worldwide consumer products, Sesame Workshop, New York. "Parents are looking for more and more content that they can trust for their kids' DVDs, and more and more companies are out there creating educational content for preschoolers."
Hanssen said supermarkets can play a "very big role because we know moms are shopping there -- not once a week, but multiple times per week."
"Titles that are selling well now have more entertainment value," Bryant said. "Moral values are mixed with educational material to develop a story that will hold children's attention."
Buena Vista Home Entertainment's titles have been focused on the preschooler, McLain said. "Our content and curriculum speak to the social, intellectual and developmental needs of a child 2 to 5."
Supermarket programs are becoming increasingly multi-faceted. In October, for example, Giant Eagle began stocking "No More Diapers," a DVD from ConsumerVision, East Hampton, N.Y., according to the supplier. The video comes packaged with potty-training reward stickers to be used with a chart available for downloading from the Internet.
In fact, the entire category is not only growing but "producing higher-quality, more-sophisticated products," said Chris Roberts, senior vice president, sales, Rentrak Corp., Portland, Ore. "The growing children's market is driving much of the "Edutainment" growth. Production values have greatly increased creating a more professional, quality product."
The children's educational video category keeps growing as parents seek out DVDs that they feel comfortable putting in front of their children, said Burton Cromer, vice president, BBC Video and BBC Direct. "Natural history programming fits directly into that category. The increased popularity of theatrical documentaries aimed at the family, such as 'Winged Migration' and 'March of the Penguins,' is a good example of this," he said.
This class of video products makes good gifts, because the giver can feel comfortable that he "isn't just giving eye candy to their family and friends," Cromer said.
"As with all DVDs, yes, they make great holiday gifts," Rentrak's Roberts said. " The Baby Einstein, Barney, Dora the Explorer, Wiggles, and Thomas & Friend's brands always seem to be in the top of the charts for educational content for children. Lately, 'Dora the Explorer: Catch the Stars' and 'Dora the Explorer: Big Sister Dora' have been doing well on our Retail Essentials top-selling reports for the children's category."
"The Baby Einstein titles seem to have spawned a series of competitive videos," noted Greg Rediske, president, Video Management Co., Tacoma, Wash. "The new-release mentality does not seem to exist with these titles, and catalog sales are strong."
Rediske's company has experienced two different purchasing patterns with these videos: mothers who simply want an educational video for their toddler -- these tend to be more price-oriented -- and those who have heard or read of a particularly effective title, and, as a result, want only that title.
"As our stores are not offering in-line departments for the most part," he said, "we offer budget titles and do fairly well. We don't dedicate whole shippers to them, but will dedicate a shelf on our racks."
Leslie Cortez, video manager, McShan's IGA, Brady, Texas, said her stores have no section dedicated to educational videos, though it stocks "quite a bit" of children's titles. While consumers have not inundated the stores with requests, she said she remains open to vendor programs, and confident in the power of catalog sales.