Toymakers woo parents looking to wean kids away from screens

NEW YORK Fri Feb 8, 2013 5:07am GMT

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NEW YORK Feb 8 (Reuters) - When Sara Tsiropinas, 36, goes shopping for her three-year-old daughter Maya, the New York-based mom shuns the aisles dedicated to electronic toys.

The architectural designer is one of those parents who is very strict about the amount of time her child spends in front of anything with a screen, be it a videogame, iPad or TV.

Tsiropinas allows her daughter to watch TV for about 2 hours a week and prefers seeing Maya spend time with her wooden blocks and role-playing toys instead. She is not alone.

In 2012, a year toymakers bet big on "AppCessories," or playthings that come to life when hooked up to an iPad, iPhone and iPod, U.S. shoppers spent more dollars on building sets, arts & crafts items, dolls and preschool toys instead, NPD data showed.

That forced toymakers, big and small, to focus more on reviving traditional toys in their 2013 lineup and many of them will be on display at the American Toy Fair, which officially kicks off in New York on Sunday.

The revival of interest in classic toys is good news for companies such as Danish toymaker Lego, known for its colorful building blocks, and is already being welcomed by parents and doctors alike.

"This is great news. The best toys are the things like dolls and blocks, trucks and cars, pencil and paper and crayons," said Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "They fully engage a kid's imagination.

"What we want is for kids not to be sitting in front of screens all day and not to have their entertainment handed to them," said Ginsburg, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

This year will see the return of classics such as Slinky, a helical spring that stretches and bounces, which will now be available in six shiny colors ranging from pink to black, as well as old favorites such as Tinkertoy building sets and Spirograph, a geometric drawing toy.

Jakks Pacific Inc will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cabbage Patch Kids by introducing a line dressed in party theme fashions, while Blue Box, known for its infant and pre-school toys, will launch a "Soft 'N Safe" wooden toy set.

One reason driving the comeback of some of these classic toys is "the built in equity with moms and grandparents who are the ultimate decision makers," said Laurie Schacht, co-publisher of industry publication The Toy Insider.

But, while Lego had a banner year in 2012, it might be harder for other companies to replicate that success, said Needham analyst Sean McGowan.

"They did well because they made toys kids want to play with and that parents feel good about buying. It's not that easy, but it is that simple," said McGowan, adding that Lego's Chimea line "seems to be an early favorite" going to 2013.

Spin Master's big bets for 2013 include O.R.B., a levitating sphere that requires no remote control, and Boom Boom Balloon, a game where a player rolls a die and has to carefully push a stick into the balloon until it clicks, watching it squeeze and stretch and hope that it doesn't pop on his or her turn.

GENDER NO BAR

Toymakers are also planning to win over parents determined to teach their children to question outdated gender roles.

So look for a new line of Easy Bake ovens from Hasbro Inc in black, silver or blue for boys, and more construction toys in the girls' aisle.

"Construction is on fire, especially in the girls aisle," said Schacht, who expects strong demand for the Lego Friends line and the new Barbie line from Mega Brands Inc. Mattel Inc owns the Barbie brand.

Zing is launching "Air Huntress Z-Curve Bow," a crossbow in pink and purple, drawing inspiration from bold heroines such as "Katniss Everdeen" in the "The Hunger Games" franchise.

Toymakers are also betting big on playthings inspired from TV franchises because they have fewer movies to work with this summer, said TimetoPlayMag.com Editor-in-Chief Jim Silver.

One of the hot TV properties this year will be Disney Channel's animated TV movie "Sophia The First," several toy experts said. Mattel and Jakks are among the toymakers that plan to manufacture toys tied to this franchise.

"Kids definitely have more exposure to characters they see in books or TV shows. So it makes sense for these licenses to be prevalent," the Toy Industry Association's Adrienne Appell added.

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