SATURDAY MORNINGS AREN’T what they used to be.
Children’s television has morphed mightily over the last few decades from a steady stream of programs critics once called 30-minute toy advertisements into a lineup that must justify its educational purpose to watchdogs or risk federal scrutiny.
In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a public warning about the health risks television poses to young children, and many activists who had railed against any TV for tots were suddenly vindicated. They soon found a more receptive audience in the courts, and since then, threats of legal action have risen sharply.
The impact was also felt in the home video market. In September, Walt Disney, the owner of the Baby Einstein company, announced that it would issue refunds to consumers who purchased Baby Einstein DVDs after a study suggested the videos had a negative impact on vocabulary development. Since then, more groups have called for similar refunds from the industry.
Now, as the standards for children’s television and video have grown stricter and the revenue models have changed, a new crop of producers has emerged with their own ideas about what children should be watching and why.
Take, for instance, Julia Pimsleur Levine, the owner Little Pim, an educational, second-language DVD series for children. She sees the refund issue from a number of angles. As a mother of two, she says she has mixed feelings about the industry, but as an entrepreneur, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ latest warning may have gone too far. (Of course, as for her own business, she’s not concerned. She projects pulling in $500,000 by the end of this year — up from $160,000 in 2008 — and $1.2 million in 2010. She also anticipates earning a profit for the first time next year.)
SmartMoney asked Pimsleur Levine a few questions about her company and the broader industry. Here are her condensed answers.
You were a documentary filmmaker. Why did you make the switch to producing child-focused foreign-language DVDs?
I was raised in the foreign language business. My father, Dr. Paul Pimsleur, created the Pimsleur System, a foreign language study method for adults. So, naturally, I grew up speaking French fluently, as well as a little bit of Spanish, German and Italian. I wanted my children to learn French, as well. However, right after my first son was born, I discovered that there weren’t any high-quality language systems crafted specifically for young minds. I decided to make one.
Did being a filmmaker help you in launching Little Pim?
Part of the success of Little Pim is that it stands up to very high quality standards. For example, my former production company, Big Mouth Productions, films all of Little Pim’s videos in high definition. Although shooting this way is more expensive, parents often say they appreciate the attention to detail.
Business: Little Pim, a foreign-language immersion DVD series for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.
Location: New York
Year founded: 2007
Number of employees: 7
Web address: www.littlepim.com
Are there any other benefits to shooting in high definition?