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DVDs Get Kid Friendly

2 Apr, 2004 By: Meryl Schoenbaum

Some call them “pop-n-play.” They're also known as “auto play,” “direct play” and “QuickStart.” Regardless of the name, the fact is that DVDs that let kids insert a disc into a DVD player and watch without knowing how to use a remote control are catching on.

Without major fanfare, several major kidvid suppliers have been releasing titles that appeal to children's independent streaks when it comes to the matter of their favorite videos. Most believe this functionality represents a major advance for the kidvid genre.

In general, the way it works is, once the DVD is inserted in the player, the disc begins playing automatically. Remote control and menu functionality are available if desired. Prices are comparable to regular DVD editions.

For many of the suppliers, the idea to include the easy-playing capability began at home.

Glenn Ross, president of Lions Gate Family Home Entertainment, noticed the sense of empowerment and pride his young son had when he'd pick out a VHS cassette and pop it into the VCR, and the video would play automatically. Two years ago, Ross saw the pride turn to frustration as his son was unable to watch a DVD without assistance from an adult.

“That's when I hatched the idea: Why couldn't a DVD function as a VHS?” Ross said. “People were hesitant at first, but the staff's kids tested it, and consumer press reaction has been phenomenal.”

Lions Gate's kid-friendly titles — which the company began releasing in February as “direct-play DVDs” — are Rock N' Roll Clifford and its “Care Bears” catalog. Upcoming direct-play titles include Clifford's Puppy Days (street April 20), as well as offerings in the “Fisher-Price,” “Little People” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” lines.

‘Quick Start' to Independence
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment's VP of marketing, Suzanne White, is another enthusiastic proponent of the feature, which the company calls “QuickStart.” “It's a way of eliminating an obstacle to kids being self-sufficient in using DVDs,” she said. With QuickStart, after the child has viewed the movie, it automatically replays if no action is taken at the main menu.

Right now, Columbia TriStar has one title in the market — Dragon Tales: Whenever I'm Afraid, which debuted last December — and two on the way, including Berenstain Bears: Bears Get a Babysitter, which streets June 1.

Hit Entertainment has jumped on the bandwagon in a big way, with what the company refers to as “auto play” DVDs.

More than 12 auto-play titles are in Hit's lineup now, and the company will be using the capability on all of its new DVD releases, according to Debbie Ries, SVP of sales. “With auto play, if none of the menu-screen commands are selected within one minute, the feature automatically begins to play,” Ries said.

The first Hit DVD with the feature was Bob the Builder: Tool Power, which streeted in December. Other titles available include Here Come the Rubbadubbers; several “Kipper” offerings; Angelina Ballerina: Lights, Camera, Action!; Barney's Movin' and Groovin'; Tubb's Pirate Treasure; and The Wiggles: Cold Spaghetti Western.

Soon-to-be-released auto-play titles from Hit are Let's Pretend With Barney (May 11) and Thomas & Friends: Steamies vs. Diesels (May 18).

ADV Films, one of the leading anime suppliers, began offering “pop-n-play” titles in the fall of last year.

“Our decision to produce pop-n-play DVDs was based on our desire to satisfy our customers, especially parents who enjoy the ease and convenience of having a show play automatically,” said Kevin Corcoran, COO and CFO for ADV Films. “This makes it easier for them and their kids to sit back and enjoy the show.”

ADV's pop-n-play titles include Hello Kitty's Paradise, Hello Kitty & Friends, Monster Rancher and Destroy All Monsters. Corcoran said the company will “more than likely” include the capability on any titles skewed to very young children, such as “Hello Kitty” titles.

Not All Are Convinced
However, not all companies are convinced of the need to develop such titles. Disney does not offer any titles with the easy-play feature, nor does Paramount Home Entertainment (although a Paramount spokesperson did say the company was “looking at it”). In fact, one company — Mommy & Me — has a specific reason why it has no plans to produce a self-starting DVD.

“The Mommy & Me programming is not intended to be a video-babysitter, but rather a program to encourage interaction between parents and their children, much as the playgroup classes these titles are based on,” said Jane Pemberton, president of Mommy & Me.

So will play-it-yourself DVDs be the nail in the coffin for VHS in the kidvid genre? No one interviewed for this article seemed to think so.

“VHS will be around until retailers decide to no longer make it available, particularly in the kids' genre,” Lions Gate's Ross said.

Columbia TriStar's White said, “It's not really the nail in the coffin, but it's getting a step closer for DVD to be as kid-friendly as VHS.”

ADV Films' Corcoran predicted: “The future of VHS will be determined by the rapidly increasing affordability of DVD players.”

And Hit Entertainment's Ries said, “I think many people have a VHS player for their children, and they have a collection of favorite movies and shows on VHS, so they don't intend to make the switch while their children are young.”

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