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Still Putting Kids First

23 Aug, 2005 By: Meryl Schoenbaum

Ranny Levy

The quality of children's programming always is top of mind for Ranny Levy, president and founder of the Coalition for Quality Children's Media. The nonprofit collaboration of more than 10,000 media professionals, educators, lobbyists, policymakers, child advocates and families was founded in 1991 and is best known for its Kids First! initiative, which annually evaluates, rates and endorses children's videos, software, audio recordings and TV programs. Home Media Retailing recently discussed with Levy the state of children's programming and the organization's goals.

Q: What trends have you noticed in the children's video genre?

Whereas there are fewer true independent companies than there were in the late 1980s, the ones that are out there are doing a better job than ever. I remember when the children's genre first started. No one had a clue that it would take off like it has. There were some horrible titles that came out in the early years that were simple pan-and-scans of popular children's books. Today, we have everything from excellent literature-based programming produced by the Weston Woods/Scholastic partnership to TV-based programming that has world-class writers and animators, such as “Dora the Explorer,” “Dragon Tales” and the whole Barbie thing that Lions Gate Entertainment has created with Mattel. I think we have more better programming for kids today than ever before. Yes, you might agree that there is more worse programming as well. But, the fact is that you have a choice. It used to be that we didn't have a choice.

Q: What are the Coalition's goals for this year?

To expand our partners for our Kids First! Film and Video Festival. To incorporate Junior Film Critics Club into as many film festivals as possible, which is a way to engage kids in the festivals not just as audience members, but as active participants. To increase the public's awareness of Kids First! We've put a major emphasis on driving more traffic to the Kids First! Web site.Lastly, I am on the road again, speaking at conventions such as the 27th National Media Market this September in Las Vegas, which is attended by the country's leading media libraries.

Q: What are some recent initiatives the organization has undertaken?

The Kids First! Film and Video Festival was launched as a test in 2000. In the past six years, it has become the Coalition for Quality Children's Media's most successful project in terms of reaching a mass audience. This year, it will be in more than 75 cities and will reach an audience of more than 300,000 kids and their parents or caregivers. Our coolest news is the partnerships we've made with three great venues who are premiering new direct-to-DVD releases in Spanish as well as English: The San Juan Film Festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico; the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, N.M.; and the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose, Calif. The home entertainment divisions at the studios have discovered that the Kids First! Film and Video Festival is a great way to launch their direct-to-DVD programs.

Q: Tell us about the Kids First! awards program.

The nominees for the Kids First! awards will be posted on our Web site (www.kidsfirst.org) in September, where our site visitors have until mid-October to place their votes for 17 awards. We are negotiating with a couple of our festival partners right now about announcing the winners in conjunction with one of our major festivals in late October or November.

Q: What are some upcoming projects the organization is working on?

We have some interesting new partnerships we're working on, another new expansion on our Web store project and a major test program with a national organization that has a huge number of mom members. We're launching a DVD of the Month Club in partnership with Monterey Home Media in the fourth quarter.

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