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Though firm sees a winner in 'Baby Badger' DVD, critics throw a flag

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/11/06

As your toddler settles down in front of the television, Bucky Badger strides into the middle of the screen amid the warm sounds of a piano concerto.

With a football field as background, a soothing adult female voice intones: "The University of Wisconsin Badgers."

A moment later, the voice of an impossibly cute-sounding little girl squeaks: "Go Badgers."

In what many will likely see as marketing run amok or the greatest idea since the Fifth Quarter, University of Wisconsin fans can now buy "Baby Badger," a DVD for infants and toddlers with the expressed goal of "Raising Tomorrow's Wisconsin Fan Today."

More than 30 minutes long, the DVD promises to take your infant or toddler on a journey that is part educational and plenty of fun. And, perhaps, the video will have nurtured a toddler who will grow to love and support all things Badger.

At least that's the goal of the maestro behind the idea of children's DVDs for the collegiate athletic marketplace. Greg Scheinman, a University of Michigan graduate who lives and works in Houston, is the head of Team Baby Entertainment. Team Baby has produced DVDs for UW and 19 other universities, including the University of Notre Dame ("Baby Irish"), Michigan ("Baby Wolverine"), Oklahoma State ("Baby Cowboy") and - well, you get the idea.

Scheinman, who has a 3-year-old son and another baby on the way, said that he came up with the idea "because I had a child in that demographic, and there was nothing sports-related out there.

"This is something a parent or grandparent can watch with the kids," he said. "There is a connection. Parents have their first, second and third child, and they rush out to buy the UW baby jersey. This is an enhancement of that kind of concept."

It's one thing to plop your infant son or daughter in front of the tube while you stuff yourself watching the UW-Ohio State football game. Now "Baby Badger" can do the cheerleading for you.

A booming business
Scheinman might be on to something. Two years ago,, an online research firm, estimated that the children's video, or "kidvid," market was a $4.8 billion business. According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the amount spent marketing to children shot up from $6.2 billion to $12 billion from 1992 to 1997. Today, marketers spend at least $15 billion a year, the group says.

Scheinman says he makes no pretense that his videos are completely educational in the way Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, two well-known video products, are marketed. Rather, he said, the videos are an entertaining way to introduce a child to the school and the team you spend much of your time supporting.

"A grand celebration of the University of Wisconsin - Baby Badger will have the toddler set bleeding cardinal and white in no time!" says the advance publicity for "Baby Badger."

"You have to take the product for what it is," Scheinman said. "It's a fun, enjoyable, heartwarming, entertaining product that parents can watch with their kids."

Susan Linn, a psychologist and co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, takes a dim view of Team Baby Entertainment.

Her group has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission concerning Brainy Baby and Baby Einstein, saying the two products should not be marketed as educational tools.

"The new buzzword with these products is they are fun and the baby can connect with their parents," she said. "Team Baby now says his product isn't educational, but his Web site says it is."

There is some education in "Baby Badger." Toddlers can learn how to spell "Bucky," just as kids do on public television. And numbers play a factor in the video - though in a strange, athletic sort of way.

For instance, in "Baby Badger," toddlers learn to identify numbers with former Badgers football greats such as defensive back Jamar Fletcher (2) and quarterbacks Brooks Bollinger (5) and Mike Samuel (10), all of whom are seen in moments of football glory.

There are also colors to learn: red and white.

Your little bundle also gets an earful of the University of Wisconsin marching band, UW cheerleaders, other sports at UW and enthusiastic - but sober - fans in the stands.

There are also plenty of cute kids decked out in Badgers gear to watch. But Bucky is the clear star of the show.

"We are not touting that our product will make them smarter," Scheinman said. "We are touting the fact that we really think there is a need for this and there is an enjoyable factor for parents to interact with their children. I think there is a value of the traditions of these schools. There is a connection these parents can have with their children through sports. And they can start at an earlier age."

To allay any concerns, Scheinman established an advisory board of pediatricians, health care professionals and other advocates for children to screen the videos. Nothing was trimmed from "Baby Badger," he said.

As for criticism from childhood advocates, Scheinman said: "We haven't got any direct criticism. We try to be as responsible as we can."

But Linn said that what Scheinman is doing is wrong.

"To me, this is just one more step in the escalation of getting kids hooked on media," Linn said. "For the marketing and media industries, that's what they want."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 years of age be kept away from any screened media.

New products planned
Scheinman has a powerful backer. Michael Eisner - the former head of Disney, which knows a thing or two about kids and marketing - bought Team Baby Entertainment in June. Together, Scheinman said, Team Baby has plans for new products.

Team Baby has scored licensing deals with NASCAR, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association and has extended its agreement with the NCAA.

"There are teams in your state that would be phenomenal for this," Scheinman said.


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