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Let Us Edutain You

13 Apr, 2005 By: Angelique Flores

In a growing DVD market, edutainment has carved out its own niche.

Whether it's a how-to video teaching viewers a language, a collection of DVDs bringing literature to life or a series that instructs children on the ABCs, consumers and suppliers alike are paying more attention to the genre.

“I've always called it the sleeping giant of the video industry,” said Scott Mansfield, president and managing partner at Monterey Media, which has been working with edutainment product for 18 years. Half of Monterey's product is in the edutainment realm.

A huge segment of edutainment product is aimed at children. With kidvid raking in $4 billion a year, said Marc Hirshberg, COO, ThinkFilm, edutainment is doing well by taking in $500 million on its own. This growing success is prompting more and more companies to get into the business.

“The programming is evergreen,” Mansfield said.

With 11.5 million households with children under 6 years old, 63 percent of the parents with kids between ages 2 and 5 have purchased a learning DVD, said Lori MacPherson, VP of brand marketing, Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

“Preschool is a huge category for us and in the market,” she said.

Buena Vista's edutainment properties include Disney Learning Adventures, Baby Einstein and Baby Einstein's upcoming extension, Little Einstein, debuting Aug. 23 and targeted at preschoolers.

“Parents are looking for ways to give their kids a strong start,” MacPherson said.

But parents aren't the only ones looking to DVD for education. Schools and libraries are huge buyers of edutainment titles. And interest is rising.

“When we first started, teachers said, ‘I won't let [my students] watch this because then they won't read the material,’ Mansfield said.

However, teachers have since embraced the medium as a teaching supplement, he said, and libraries are devoting more shelf space to it.

Among Monterey's offerings popular with teachers are its videos featuring adaptations of short stories, plays, novels and poems, such as “The American Short Story Collection” and “The Masters Poets Collection,” which present school curriculum and often include authors' bios, study guides and other learning tools.

In an interesting twist, the Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me from Hart Sharp Video has been edited to a ‘PG' version and re-released in an “Educationally Enhanced Edition.” It includes a viewing option that allows pop-up screens to appear during the movie with facts about the harmful effects of an unhealthy diet as well as 24 lessons in health education, life skills and language arts, integrated with math, science and social studies as well as assessments and quizzes for use by educators.

Aside from teaching material — often developed with the help of teachers — reasonable price points, high quality and entertainment value are key to producing good edutainment.

“It's really important that these are entertaining and that it's not dry,” Mansfield said. Many of Monterey's titles feature such big-name actors as Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda and Tommy Lee Jones. Buena Vista takes advantage of Disney characters in their titles.

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