STEAM

Toy Fair NY 2020: What Was Cool, What Might Last, What Was Missing

NEW YORK, NY; February 26, 2020—Characters (and logos) trending up: Harry Potter and Frozen II are still everywhere. Don’t underestimate the staying power of NASA for kids, especially with the namesake organization increasingly active once again. And EVERYONE wants Pink Fong’s Baby Shark license for something. (So maybe there’s another season in Baby Shark, but will that really have long-term staying power? Remains to be seen.)

Hot product: Kids Embrace car seat liners featuring DC, Disney, Marvel, Nickelodeon characters. SmarTrike similarly has generic liners (e.g. lady bug) inside some of its strollers.

Smart product: Crayola’s Dry Erase Wall Paint — a clear coating that’s painted on and turns any wall into a dry erase board. (Pictured: Crayola’s Warren Schorr and Licensing International’s Sharon Weisman.)

Crayola Dry-Erase wall paint

STEM/STEAM is more integrated throughout the show as virtually all traditional toy companies get involved.

Tiny “collectibles” (the offspring of Shopkins and Polly Pocket) are trending toward smaller groups — six or eight rather than dozens and then more dozens.

Tangle Pets, Ztringz, and other stress relievers are vying to take back the shelf space that went to fidget spinners and shaped rubber bands a couple of seasons ago.

Scratch-off comes to toys: A few weeks ago I wrote about scratch-off greeting cards; now 4DPuzz introduces NYC, London, Paris and world map scratch-off jigsaw puzzles that reveal skylines and other landmarks. The company is primarily known for its beautifully elaborate 3D Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and other licensed puzzles. (The scratch-offs are not on their website as I write.)

NYC scratch off history puzzle

Like Harry and Frozen, kid “influencers” (I can’t say it without the quotation marks) are everywhere: 8-year-old Ryan Kaji/Ryan’s World Youtube channel, with almost 24 million subscribers; 10-year-old gymnast/martial arts video star Payton Delu Myler, with 23 million Instagram followers; and Blippi, a preschool Youtube edu-tainment property created by adult Stevin John with toys coming from Jazwares.

Conversation/get-to-know-you card games are taking on renewed life even as board games continue to resonate for Gen Z’ers, Millennials and others. (Pictured: Yours truly with a Settlers of Catan sheep. Not live. The sheep, that is.)

Ira with Catan sheep

Sometimes what’s missing is just as telling: Far fewer upstarts showing robot and other electronic building sets than the last two years.

If ever there were a Toy Fair that spoke licensing — it was almost as though if you didn’t have a license (or weren’t trying to license your own property), you were just background noise. I’m not suggesting that’s good. I’m just reporting the impression walking the aisles for a day. And yet…

Quote of the show: “Licensing is great, but it doesn’t work across the board.” Ryan Fens, M&M Sales Enterprises, manufacturer of swings and other outdoor products with licenses for Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, John Deere. Hoping to get the Baby Shark license and add a sound box to play the song while the child swings. (Says I, that sound box would be special to make the parents crazy!)

M&M licensed toddler swings

 

 

Ira Surfs the Trends at NY Toy Fair

Unintended Potential, Part I: Talking Barbie

There’s a lot of talk about STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and STEAM (add “arts”), and plenty of laudable products to support entertaining educational play. Mattel supports Nickelodeon’s BLAZE, for example, and there are a wide array of licensed Discovery toys spanning an array of subjects.

But sometimes there seem to be hidden potential applications for other toys. Take Mattel’s new talking Barbie. A child can ask questions of the doll; questions and responses are stored in the cloud, content can be updated by Mattel, and the doll builds on past conversations.

We asked whether there had been any thought to a wider range of inquiries and whether the doll searches the Internet. “Barbie will never search the Internet; we’re COPPA [Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act] compliant,” came the reflexive response to an anticipated question that might have insinuated Barbie entertaining inappropriate subject matter with her charges.

But I was asking in a different context. Last fall there was a media frenzy when a mother wrote an article for The New York Times about how Apple’s Siri app engages her autistic son by being willing to pursue a subject endlessly. (See also NPR interview with the mom.)

The Mattel spokespeople were intrigued and introduced me to the outside developer who had created the Barbie application, Benjamin Morse, “Teddy Roboticist” for Toy Talk, a San Francisco company that has previously developed the apps The Winston Show (“a talk show where the characters talk back”) and SpeakaZoo (“where you talk with the animals”).

Feels like there’s something there for someone, whether it’s Barbie or otherwise.