Baby Einstein is a line of
multimediaproducts and toys that specializes in interactive activities for childrenaged 3 months to 3 years old. Subjects such as classical music, art, and poetryare prominently explored. These products are currently made by a division of the Walt Disney Company, marketed under the slogan, "Where Discovery Begins".
While popular with many parents who desire to provide an early boost to their children's cognitive development, products of this sort find little support among experts in the field of
early childhood education, who emphasize the crucial role of "hands-on", experiential learning through exploration and manipulation of the child's physical environment.
In August 2007, researchers at the
University of Washingtonpublished a study which found that the use of "Baby Einstein" DVDs/videos correlates to smaller vocabularies in children 6 to 18 months old. The Baby Einstein Company and its parent, the Walt Disney Company, have taken issue with the findings of the study. (see below)
The Baby Einstein Company was founded in 1997 by Julie Aigner-Clark at her home in suburban
Denver, Colorado. Aigner-Clark and her husband, Bill Clark, invested $18,000 of their savings to produce the initial product, a VHS/ DVDvideo called "Baby Einstein," later sold as "Language Nursery".
The original video shows a variety of toys and visuals interspersed with music, stories, numbers, and words of many languages. This first video was popular with some parents, and Aigner-Clark eventually convinced a national retailer to test-market the video in six of its stores.Fact|date=February 2007 Eventually, the video was marketed across the
United States. Other videos followed, some featuring the Clarks' two daughters, Aspen and Sierra.
Baby Einstein became a multi-million dollar franchise; its revenue grew from $1 million in 1998 [cite journal|journal=Denver Post| title=Baby videos spell big money Mom turns 'Einstein' into million- dollar enterprise| author=Eric Hubler| date=1999-03-12] to around $10 million in 2000. [cite journal|title=Nurturing a 'Baby' boom Littleton woman's line of videos, CDs a hit with children| journal=Denver Post| date=2001-05-30|author=Daisy Whitney] Aigner-Clark sold a 20% stake in the company to
Artisan Entertainmentin February 2000 and sold the rest to The Walt Disney Companyfor an undisclosed amount in November 2001. [cite news|title=Artisan Entertainment Acquires Rights to Distribute Branded Developmental Series From The Baby Einstein Company| date=2000-02-10| publisher=Business Wire] The franchise is named after and pays significant royaltiesto the estate of deceased physicist Albert Einstein, putting him in the top 5 of most earning dead celebrities, according to Forbes. [cite journal| url=http://www.smh.com.au/news/music/cobain-is-the-new-elvis/2006/10/25/1161699375968.html |title=Cobain is the new Elvis (Most earning dead celebrities)| publisher=Syndey Morning Herald|date=2006-10-25|accessdate=2008-08-13|author=(Reuters)]
subsidiaryof Disney, the production budgets were increased and the concept was expanded to teach more complex topics that would appeal to preschoolers, including "Baby MacDonald", a video about agriculture. Titles currently available include "Baby Bach Musical Adventure, Baby da Vinci From Head To Toe, Baby Monet Discovering The Seasons," and "Baby Newton World of Shapes". A line of educational toys was also developed. In 2005, the franchise inspired a Disney Channel animated television seriescalled " Little Einsteins".
The official "Baby Einstein" website is available in 7 languages, with specific content for 12 different countries.
January 23, 2007The Baby Einstein Company was mentioned in the State of the Unionaddress by President George W. Bush. Aigner-Clark, along with other notable U.S. citizens, was invited to sit in the gallery during the speech, and was recognized by Bush during his presentation to the nation. Bush has been criticized for so recognizing Aigner-Clark, whose claim to fame is the creation of a media franchise which plays off "the status anxiety of neurotic parents." Agner-Clark's Husband, William E. Clark, had donated $5,150 to the RNC and Bush in 2004. [cite web|url=http://www.slate.com/id/2158226/ | title=Bush's Baby Einstein Gaffe|date 2007-01-24|publisher=Slate|author=Timothy Noah]
Although Julie Aigner-Clark no longer owns or operates the company she founded, she is visibly active as a
consultantand spokespersonfor the series. In each video, she can be seen in advertisements promoting the series. Since selling to Disney, Aigner-Clark has been working on "The Safe Side," which instructs elementary-aged kids about safety around strangers. The video teams her with John Walsh, host of " America's Most Wanted". [cite web| url=http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/06/23/earlyshow/living/money/main703820.shtml | title=Going Beyond Baby Einstein: company founder on what's next|date=2005-06-24| publisher=CBSnews.com|author=(CBS)]
Complaint to FTC and International Criticism
In May 2006, the [http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood] (CCFC) filed a complaint with the U.S.
Federal Trade Commission(FTC) against the Baby Einstein Company and the makers of other similar series geared toward very young children. [ [http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/babyvideos/ftccomplaint.htm FTC Complaint Against Baby Einstein, Brainy Baby, & BabyFirstTV] ] The CCFC alleged false advertisingby these companies, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that children under two should be discouraged from watching televisionat all, [cite journal |url=http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;107/2/423 |author= American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Public Education |title=Children, Adolescents, and Television (policy statement)| journal= Pediatrics|volume=107|month=February | year=2001|pages=423–426 |doi=10.1542/peds.107.2.423 |pmid=11158483] and a study showing that only six percent of parents are aware of that recommendation, [cite web|url=http://mothering.com/guest_editors/kids_commercialism/kids_commercialism.html| title=Putting the Book Back in Book Fair| publisher= Mothering (magazine)|month=January | year=2007| accessdate=2007-08-13| author=Josh Golin] [cite web|url=http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia121405pkg.cfm |title=New Report on Educational Media for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers|author=Michelle M. Garrison and Dimitri A. Christakis| publisher= Kaiser Family Foundation|accessdate=2007-08-13 ] while 49 percent of parents think educational videos like these are very important in the intellectual development of children.
In 2007, the FTC closed the complaint, determining not to recommend any enforcement action against the company. [http://www.ftc.gov/os/closings/staff/071205einst.pdf Federal Trade Commission Closing Letter] to counsel for the Baby Einstein Company,
December 5, 2007, retrieved July 9, 2008] The factors considered by the FTC in making its determination included the redesign of the Baby Einstein website, which removed certain product testimonials and product descriptions, as well as the company's representations that it would take steps to ensure that any advertising claims with respect to educational and developmental value would be properly substantiated. However, the websites of Baby Einstein in languages other than English are not all modified in the same way. For example, its official Chinese website still contains the product effect statement as "For example, the "Little van Gough" released by us can initiate your baby's interest and recognition of colors." [cite web|url=http://www.babyeinstein.com/cn/OurProducts.shtml|title=产品介绍 ("Product Introduction")|accessdate=2008-08-22 ("例如我们已经发行的《小小梵高－色彩的世界》影片DVD，就能启发宝宝们对颜色的兴趣和认识。" ("For example, the "Little van Gough" released by us can initiate your baby's interest and recognition of colors."))]
A report [http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/08/08/1186530417099.html] in the Sydney Morning Herald, a prominent Australian newspaper reported in 2007 that products such as Baby Einstein "are little more than snake oil and can actually slow a toddler's learning". Furthermore, Dr Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood coalition in Australia, was said to accuse sellers of the baby development DVDs, Baby Einstein of "false and deceptive marketing". She said that research had demonstrated that "Not only is there no evidence that baby videos do any of the things the baby video industry claims they do, but these media may actually be undermining the development of the very skills they claim to foster,".
Controversy over effects on language development
In August 2007, the "
Journal of Pediatrics" published a preprintversion of the results of a study by researchers at the University of Washingtonon the effects of television and DVD/video viewing on language development in children under two years of age. The study, the second conducted by the same researchers as part of a larger project, was a correlational study based on telephone interviews with parents of children aged 2 to 24 months.
The study's authors, Drs. Frederick Zimmerman, Dimitri Christakis, and
Andrew Meltzoff, concluded that, among infants aged 8 to 16 months, exposure to "baby DVDs/videos" — such as "Baby Einstein" and "Brainy Baby" — was strongly associated with lower scores on a standard language developmenttest. This result was specific to baby-oriented educational videos and did not hold for other types of media, and was not related to shared parental viewing. Among toddlers aged 17 to 24 months, the study found no significant effects, either negative or positive, for any of the forms of media that were viewed. Daily reading and storytelling, however, were found to be associated with somewhat higher language scores, especially for toddlers. [cite journal|author=F. J. Zimmerman, D.A. Christakis, and A.N. Meltzoff| title=Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children under Age 2 Years| journal=Journal of Pediatrics| date= online 2007-08-07| url=http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site36/2007/0817/20070817_071817_Zimmermanetal__Associations_JPed07.pdf| doi=10.1016/j.jpeds.2007.04.071)| doi_brokendate=2008-06-22|format=PDF]
The University of Washington press release announcing the study explained that for each hour-per-day spent watching baby DVDs/videos, infants understood on average six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them, and recommended that parents limit their use. "There is no clear evidence of a benefit coming from baby DVDs and videos and there is some suggestion of harm," said lead author Frederick Zimmerman. "We don't know for sure that baby DVDs and videos are harmful, but the best policy is safety first. Parents should limit their exposure as much as possible." [ cite web|url=http://uwnews.washington.edu/ni/article.asp?articleID=35898|author=Joel Schwartz|date=2007-08-07|title=Baby DVDs, videos may hinder, not help, infants' language development |publisher=University of Washington (press release)]
Christakis, a pediatrician, said that he is "frequently asked by parents what the value of these products is," and stated, "The evidence is mounting that they are of no value and may in fact be harmful. Given what we now know, I believe the onus is on the manufacturers to prove their claims that watching these programs can positively impact children's cognitive development." [ cite web|url=http://uwnews.washington.edu/ni/article.asp?articleID=35898|author=Joel Schwartz|date=2007-08-07|title=Baby DVDs, videos may hinder, not help, infants' language development |publisher=University of Washington (press release)]
In response to the negative media reports generated by the study and the press release, the Baby Einstein Company issued the following statement:
Baby Einstein is committed to maintaining the highest standards in the development of all of our products. After thoroughly analyzing the University of Washington study, we have serious concerns about the many contradictions between the study's conclusions and the content of its press release that created publicity which incorrectly suggests that this study focused on Baby Einstein products. In fact, the report concludes by stating “The analysis presented here is not a direct test of the developmental impact of viewing baby DVDs/videos. We did not test through experimental manipulation whether viewing baby DVDs/videos has a positive or negative impact on vocabulary acquisition.” [cite web| url=http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/13853586/detail.html | title=Study Targets Infant Videos Finds Too Much TV, Too Few Words | publisher=TheDenverChannel.com | author=Theresa Marchetta| date=2007-08-08|accessdate=2007-08-13]
August 13, 2007, Robert Iger, president and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, the owner of Baby Einstein, demanded that the University of Washington retract the press release, asserting that the study itself doesn’t support the claims made by the University’s public relations department. [cite web| url=http://www.babyeinstein.com/Common/Documents/BobIgerPressRelease.pdf|title=The Walt Disney Company demands retraction from the University of Washington for misleading press release| date=2007-08-13|publisher=Baby Einstein press release|author=Robert A. Iger|format=PDF] [cite web |url=http://consumerist.com/consumer/take-it-back/walt-disney-demands-retraction-from-university-of-washington-over-baby-einstein-video-press-release-289008.php|title=Walt Disney Demands Retraction From University of Washington Over Baby Einstein Video Press Release|accessdate=2007-08-13|publisher=Consumerist.com|date=2007-08-13|author=Meg Marco] On August 16, University of Washington President Mark A. Emmert rejected Disney's complaints, saying that the university stands behind the research and that the press release accurately reflected the paper's conclusions and the scientists' commentary. [cite web| url=http://uwnews.washington.edu/ni/article.asp?articleID=36148 |title=UW President rejects Disney complaints|publisher=University of Washington press release|date=2007-08-16]
* [http://www.babyeinstein.com Official website]
* [http://disney.go.com/disneyvideos/preschool/babyeinstein/ Baby Einstein DVDs] Disney's Official Baby Einstein DVD listing
*cite journal| url=http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12437-educational-dvds-slow-infant-learning.html| title=Educational DVDs 'slow infant learning'| journal=NewScientist.com|date=2007-08-07|author=Roxanne Khamsi
*cite journal|url=http://ilabs.washington.edu/news/TIME_BrainierBaby_Jan_06.pdf |title=Want a Brainier Baby? Loading up on tapes, games and videos may not be a smart move | author=
Pamela Paul| journal=Time | date=2006-01-08 | accessdate=2007-08-14|format=PDF
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