CPSC To Exempt Certain Plastics From Phthalates for Toy Testing

As part of its mandate to reduce third-party testing costs for toy and children’s products manufacturers, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is set to vote this week on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking exempting four plastics from phthalates testing, according to the Toy Industry Association (TIA). TIA has led advocacy on this issue, and says that this rulemaking will likely reduce test costs.

The proposed rule determines that polypropylene, polyethylene, high impact polystyrene, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) do not contain specified phthalates prohibited in children’s toys and child care articles. Based on this determination, companies would not be required to have these specific plastics tested for the banned phthalates at third-party laboratories, although they must continue to comply with the 0.1% limit for each of the six currently-restricted phthalates. [Read more...]

Being Smart About Smart Toys

What manufacturers should do to stay on top of this evolving toy category.

by Sean McGowan, founder, SMG Leisure

Toys featuring tech elements such as sound chips, programmability, or the ability to communicate with other toys are not new, but for the last few years, smart toys are eating up more and more shelf space. In this piece, I will look at several aspects of this burgeoning toy category. Some of these toys are truly groundbreaking, but both parents and toy manufacturers need to exercise a great deal of caution and forethought to make sure these toys safely deliver their intended benefit.

For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll clarify what I mean by “smart toy,” or, just as usefully, what I do not mean. I am not talking about toys designed to make your baby, toddler, or preschooler smarter. Instead, the term “smart toy” focuses on the smartness of the toy itself.

Sphero_BB8

Sphero’s BB-8 app-enabled droid launched last year and allows kids to control the robotic ball with an app.

Not-So-Smart Toys

Products typified by Tickle Me Elmo, where a child presses a button (or issues a voice command) and the toy runs through a pre-programmed routine, are not considered smart toys. Some people in the industry refer to these as “watch me toys,” but I have provocatively called them “toys that play with themselves.” These toys don’t make anyone smarter, nor do they use technology that is all that impressive.

The broad category of electronic learning aids, which encompasses educational offerings from companies like LeapFrog and VTech, are not smart toys either, even though some of the tech-infused devices are pretty smart, and many of them are now connected either to each other or to the web.

Smart toys interact with other devices and/or programs, such as apps, other toys, or other devices in the area. These toys often have a capacity to learn about their environments and to respond—sometimes in subtle ways—to changes in the environment.

In some ways, products like Furby, Tamagotchi, and Webkins were the precursors to smart toys. They weren’t actually all that smart, especially compared to today’s smart toys. But I consider them to be the original smart toys because they appeared to be interactive, learn over time, and respond to changes in the environment. In fact, they were really just running on pre-set clocks, testing for a small number of changes the user made, even though they seemed to respond to the user, grow (or die, if you didn’t “feed” them), and interact.

Smart Toys 1.0

The toys I call smart toys 1.0 were effectively crude physical extensions of computer programs and apps. Think of those early apptivities—or app-based toys—that allowed kids to scan in some physical product (a little toy car, a figurine, a plastic gun) to cause changes in an app on a tablet or smartphone. In hindsight, these were little more than app-based games that invited the consumer to use a physical object other than their fingers to control the action. Why was this a good idea? It wasn’t, but it gave toymakers and retailers a way to be involved in a segment of the industry that was rapidly evolving away from them. In my view, the fundamental problem with these toys is that they didn’t allow kids to have more fun than they would have simply playing with the app.

Smart Toys 2.0

The toys I consider smart toys 2.0 are those that promote interaction between a tablet or a smartphone and the physical toy, to create an experience that is very different from—and better than—that which can be enjoyed without that interaction. Perhaps the best example is Furby Boom, but Sphero’s robotic ball (and its best-selling BB-8 version) and Ooboly also fit into this category. Plus, the entire toys-to-life sub-category pioneered by Activision’s Skylanders and now also populated by Nintendo’s amiibo, and LEGO and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment’s LEGO Dimensions, are also part of smart toys 2.0. While these toys are different from each other in many ways, what they share in common is the focus on both the screen—whether it’s a TV, a tablet, or a smartphone—and the toy.

CogniToys_Pink_Front

CogniToys’ Dino is a cloud-based, Wi-Fi connected toy that allows kids to engage in intelligent conversations.

Smart Toys 3.0

As technology becomes even more accessible, a growing number of smart toys either involve minimal screen-time or none at all, which brings us to smart toys 3.0. The emergence of these screen-liberated toys is due in part to backlash from parents who seek to reduce the amount of time their children spend staring at screens (which has apparently been linked to shortened attention spans and difficulty in learning). Additionally, technology that allows the devices to work simply and intuitively without a screen has emerged, such as chip sets, connection technology, and user interfaces. These toys may require a device to control, setup, or program the toys, but the focus is on the toy itself, not the screen of a tablet or smartphone.

We have seen a host of 3.0 toys in the past year, such as Anki Overdrive, which allows artificially intelligent cars to race around connectible track, as well as interactive smart toys masquerading as plain old traditional toys, such as CogniToy and an adorable reworking of a classic, Edwin the Duck. These toys are a break from the prior generation of smart toys because all of the action and fun is in the toys. Kids are not just watching or using a toy to enhance an app experience. Instead, they are using the secondary device to enhance the power of the toy.

One of the aspects I love about the newest generation of smart toys is how some of them encourage all kids to get involved with technology, including girls. LittleBits are designed with a gender-neutral color palette and can be used to create anything kids can imagine. Sphero’s BB-8 app-enabled droid is programmable and can be part of any kids’ play fantasy.

Safety First

Still, some of the same issues that loomed over the prior generations of smart toys continue to linger. First and most important is the question of security. Let’s face it: Anything that interacts with your home’s Wi-Fi network is a potential security risk, but that doesn’t mean it’s pointless to try to make the toys secure—just the opposite. It is imperative that toy manufacturers use security measures that are every bit as secure as those used to secure a teenager’s iPhone camera roll. Adults who purchase connected toys must remain vigilant that they are not serving as Trojan Horses to let hackers into their homes.

While there will almost always be a way to hack a system, the key is to make it so difficult that the hacker will seek more fertile grounds. (Like the old joke about the two campers seeking to avoid bear attacks: The first camper says he plans to wear running shoes. The other camper laughs and says, “You really think you can outrun a bear?” The first one replies, “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I only need to outrun you.”)

And hacking isn’t the only safety issue. For young children, there can be just as much danger if a toy simply serves as an entryway onto the web. Remember Commonwealth Toy’s WikiBear? Unintended consequences can ensue when you let an innocent looking toy surf the web. The idea of a teddy bear kids could use to ask unlimited questions and gain tons of knowledge seemed quite clever, but it wasn’t thought through well enough.

Accessibility is Everything

Another issue to be tackled is cost, and its inherent connection to the widening gap between consumers who can afford costly toys and those who can’t. While a very high percentage of the consumer base has access to smartphones, not all have access to the same phones or the fastest Internet connections, and I believe these toys should be designed to be as widely accessible as possible.

The cost for the consumer is not the only cost to consider—developing smart toys isn’t cheap. They require all of the traditional costs associated with getting a toy manufactured, plus extensive upfront development costs, additional bill-of-material costs, and ongoing costs, such as server costs, higher customer service costs, and the cost of operating an ongoing service: Toys as a service (TAAS).

For larger, well-funded toy makers, these costs raise the risks but can probably be justified. For smaller, less lucrative companies, these costs can be prohibitive. Companies such as Seebo, an Israel-based technology company, provide turn-key solutions that allow even the smallest companies to quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively turn their products into smart, connected toys, lowering the costs and the risks.

Keep Your Promises

Finally—and this is ultimately true of any toy—smart toys must deliver on the promise of fun. They can’t be simply showing off some clever feature, or showcasing a new connectivity breakthrough. In fact, they can’t even be simply replicating traditional play, but in a more tech-enhanced way. They have to provide original experiences that engage kids in new ways. Otherwise, who needs them?


SeanMcGowanSean McGowan is the founder of SMG Leisure. He has been closely following the toy industry for 30 years, analyzing product trends, cost changes, marketing practices, and other aspects of how products and companies succeed (or don’t). He also follows digital gaming, sporting goods, and juvenile products. McGowan started SMG Leisure in January 2016 to continue this work beyond the parameters of Wall Street. 

Summer Toy Trends

New toys and games hitting shelves will inspire summertime play whether kids are at home, on vacation, or at the playground. The Toy Industry Association (TIA) spoke with industry experts to gain insight into what’s trending in outdoor play, what indoor playthings encourage creative skill-building and learning, and the top franchises and licenses expected to impact toy sales this summer.

Outdoor Play & New Destinations

As excitement builds for the “lazy days” of summer, toys sales show that families are anything but lazy. The NPD Group reported that the Outdoor & Sports Toys category saw a 9 percent increase in sales last year to $3.59 billion.

“The traditional outdoor play patterns—especially those related to exercise, like bicycling, running, and jumping—may not change much,” says Adrienne Appell, TIA toy trend specialist, “but toymakers are putting twists on classic toys and activities to keep kids engaged.”

New tech trends are complementing outdoor play, says J. Alison Bryant, CEO and chief play officer of PlayScience, PlayLab & Sandbox, adding that kids and families are using mobile technologies to enjoy navigational techniques such as geocaching, so they can learn about what they see on nature hikes or while playing on a beach.

“This is still relatively nascent, but what is great about it is that families are using technology to augment and enhance their play experience, not replace it,” Bryant notes.

Traveling to specialty toy stores can be perfect summer outings, especially during times when it may be rainy or too hot to be outside. Kimberly Mosley, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), says this season’s store-based events break up families’ packed schedules and provide venues for fun group activities.

“Specialty toy stores compete by making their stores a destination and providing child- and family-centered experiences that are unique in their communities,” Mosley says. “So, in ASTRA stores you’ll often see creative and fun opportunities pop up in the summer—everything from Make Your Own Garden Stone to a several-days-long Build-a-Fort Art Camp.”

Fun Ways to Play Indoors

Not all summer play takes place outside. Kids also enjoy playing inside, especially with toys and games that will boost their creative and artistic abilities. The new offerings from one of TIA’s main trends for this year, named “Ultimate Creator,” encourages kids to find and build their talents as digital artists, filmmakers, jewelers, and more.

“The season also presents opportunities for kids to explore their passions and interests through play,” says Appell. “Once they’ve returned to the house after a day outside, kids may be inspired to make their own ice cream with their parents, or design swimwear with toys and products under the Ultimate Creator trend.”

Additionally, products that teach or reinforce Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) are providing ways to keep learning fun outside of the classroom. Kids wishing to visit exotic and atypical places can arrive there almost instantly with new virtual reality (VR) products and content. Whether with a brand’s VR kit or by assembling cardboard glasses to connect to a smartphone, the sector breaks new ground in terms of offering 360-degree experiences.

“The essence of VR is to be immersed in a location it will teach children about, and transport them to places they couldn’t otherwise visit—deep in the ocean, the edge of a volcano, into a rain forest, or even into the nucleus of an atom,” says David Kleeman, senior vice president of global trends at Dubit. “It’s inexpensive, comfortable, and simple for [kids] to use, and we anticipate a growing amount of content for kids beginning this spring and summer, as the devices become widespread.”

Summer Blockbusters

Licensed toys account for 32 percent of U.S. toy sales, according to The NPD Group, and that number is expected to climb as various new entertainment reaches fans on the silver screen. This summer, theaters will be packed with blockbuster films featuring new and classic characters.

“Fans and industry professionals have high expectations for Captain America: Civil War, while families will likely make an outing for PG movies like Finding Dory,” Appell notes.

Other family-friendly summer blockbusters slated for release include The Angry Birds Movie, and sequels to Ice Age and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The licensed toys and games they inspire will run the gamut from tech to traditional and will keep kids busy playing for hours.

“Films’ toys often further the family fun even after the credits roll because they tend to be engaging and appropriate for all ages,” says Appell. “The play experiences offered by life-size accessories, mobile games, and everything in between should be able to keep toy sales strong and kids playing for hours.”

TIA tracks trends on a year-round basis to provide industry stakeholders with insight into what’s new and what’s on the horizon in the toy and youth entertainment product industry. Visit www.toyassociation.org/trends for more information.


Justin_HeadshotJustin Smulison is the newest member of TIA’s Marketing Communications team, after years as a journalist and custom content producer in legal publishing. A proud husband and father, he is thrilled to report on toys and characters that he and his 2-year-old daughter play with together, and to be involved in an industry that positively impacts her and future generations.

A New Landscape: How Smart Toys Are Changing the Toy Market

by Mykola Golovko, toys and games project manager, Euromonitor International

Technology has a transformative impact on countless aspects of our everyday lives. The list of markets disrupted by technology and rapid innovation continues to grow, and as smart toys become more prevalent, significant shifts are expected in how the global toy market works. The changes will be driven primarily by digital natives entering and overtaking the toy consumer base.

Digital Natives

By 2017, annual sales of smartphones will surpass 1 billion units. Tablets and—more recently—wearable electronics have also become mainstream products. In 2016, mobile Internet subscriptions are expected to top 3 billion, and will likely surpass the 4 billion mark by 2019. This puts a smartphone with an Internet connection in the majority of households, in addition to computers, smart TVs, and other connected devices, which are rapidly gaining in popularity. Children worldwide are growing up surrounded by technology. For them, it is a natural component of everyday life, and toys that offer interactive features and integrate virtual components into gameplay will feel natural to this audience. Manufacturers will respond with increasingly sophisticated products that blend physical and virtual gameplay.

Web

Source: Euromonitor International

Software and Content Gain Market Power

So far, the most commercially successful products blending virtual and physical gameplay have been in the toys-to-life category, but going forward, we expect to see expanding physical playability to be the focus of development. Making smart toys more interactive in the real world will require the integration of contextual computing and elements of augmented reality. This will make the software platforms for toys increasingly complex, causing a shift away from the walled garden model of toys-to-life products toward more open platforms that minimize development costs.

This is exactly what happened with mobile phones. As these products became increasingly sophisticated, there was significant consolidation in software platforms, to the point where the market became essentially a duopoly of two operating systems. As software, content, and services gained importance in mobile computing, hardware became commoditized, with significant declines in prices. Similar dynamics are expected in toys and games as smart toys become mainstream products. The value of a toy will be a combination of the physical product, the capabilities of the software platform, and the content this platform can deliver.

Adjusting to Changes

Toys are already becoming more complex products, as licensing becomes an ever-expanding part of the global market. The most successful toy lines are no longer stand-alone products, but integral parts of entertainment franchises that can span feature films, TV shows, and video games, along with apparel and other licensed products.

Smart toys will add software platforms to the total value proposition of a toy. The role of software will enable interaction with digital content in meaningful and engaging ways. Products that integrate new technology for the sake of technology itself have typically done poorly. Products that use augmented reality and contextually aware software to allow children to interact with their favorite characters in new ways will be the must-have toys of the future.


mykolaMykola Golovko is the toys and games project manager at Euromonitor International, a provider of strategic market research. Golovko studies the ways in which technology diffusion rates accelerate and permeate a growing number of aspects of the daily life of consumers.

Marvel Unveils World Merchandising Program for Guardians of the Galaxy Franchise

3255296 2Marvel unveiled a licensing program in support of its Guardians of the Galaxy franchise ahead of next year’s sequel. In anticipation of the new film and to help spark ongoing demand for all things Guardians, Marvel is unleashing an expanded merchandising program. The program will offer year-round support to the franchise for fans of all ages with focus on younger customers, ages 6-11. The merchandise rollout will include new toys, games, books, apparel, accessories, and more. [Read more...]

Educational Insights, Night & Day Studios Partner for Peekaboo Barn Board Game

Peekaboo BarnNight & Day Studios awarded a license for its flagship preschool brand to Educational Insights, which will produce a Peekaboo Barn board game for toddlers. Peekaboo Barn was one of the first early childhood apps for mobile devices, and is now one of the first preschool brands to debut as an app and expand its reach through consumer products licensing. [Read more...]

Diverse Insights Presents: The Tokyo Toy Fair Report 2016

thead_logo copySteve Starobinsky from Diverse Marketing attended this year’s Tokyo Toy Fair. The following are the trend clusters he identified at the event:

  • Novelty Cat Items: The top industry embraced item was the Do Re Mi Fa Cat from Takara Tomy, also recognized by the Japanese Toy Association as the winner for the top toy for kids with special needs. The Do Re Mi Fa Cat is a riff on the cat keyboard concept and the more you buy, the more fun it becomes. Other favorites included the Cat Couch Stacking game from Epoch and the Sumo Cats Bling Box program from Re-Ment.
  • The Vending Machine Effect: The vending machines range from simple turn and win to complex video game hybrids that reward the player different collectibles based on their performance. According to the Japanese Toy Association, there are 600,000 vending machines in the market that are responsible for $320 million dollars in sales annually.
  • Retro Gaming: Old school is trending in Japan with the current obsession of retro gaming. NES, Gameboy Color, emulators, and old video game cartridges are being sold and traded. The fair had multiple stores and sections for old 90s video games including arcades to play the games.
  • Impulse Intricate Craftables: In the adult hobby category, craft projects in tiny packages dominated relating under $20. These craftables incorporate a sense of the love for kawaii things, collectability, the desperate need to de-stress, and a smaller apartment/store space.
  • Anpanman: Anpanman is the top preschool anime series in Japan that is more than 40 years old and has a collectively of 1300 episodes.
  • Bonus Top Amime License: Hatsune Miku was the biggest property. Hatsune is a computer general popstar who has her own expo tour, Hatsune Miku Expo, and over 2.5 million followers on Facebook.

Edge Brands Makes a Splash with Splatoon Deal

EDGE BRAND logoEdge Brands Ltd. partnered with Nintendo to create a new line of water blasters based on the video game Splatoon.

Splatoon is a third-person shooter game centered around characters known as inklings who can transform back and forth between humanoid and squid form. The characters hide, climb walls, and travel through colored ink.

The new Splatoon line will introduce four water blasters inspired by the game with new features that will be fun for both fans and collectors alike.

Local Toy Industry Volunteers Roll Up Their Sleeves to Help 25,000 Foster Children

TIA Play Your PartThe Toy Industry Foundation (TIF) and National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA) partnered at TIF’s annual Play Your Part event on June 16. Volunteers from nearly 30 toy companies helped to sort, wrap, and pack toys for 25,000 foster care children in Southern California and seven additional states. In addition, hundreds of Los Angeles-area foster children were on-site at the event to receive dolls, games, puzzles, arts & crafts, and other skill-building playthings. Manufacturers and retailers donated all toys to TIF’s Toy Bank with the goal of providing comfort to children awaiting placement in permanent homes.  [Read more...]

WIT Announces Additions to Board of Directors and New Advisory Board Members

WITWomen in Toys, Licensing, and Entertainment (WIT) amplified its board of directors with new members, and added new advisory board members and chapter chairs due to the organization’s growth.

New appointments from top industry companies will bring their expertise and contributions to WIT’s board of directors as WIT continues to expand. They include:  [Read more...]