PERSPECTIVES: A Conversation with Chris Sherman, Founder and CEO of Engage Digitalcs

April 2, 2012 | As the Founder and CEO of Engage Digital, Chris Sherman is on the cutting edge of play and technology. His company executes trade shows featuring the latest in business-to-consumer commerce. Engage Digital’s upcoming 6th annual Digital Kids Conference will be held in Los Angeles from April 25-26, 2012; it’s the largest gathering of professionals engaged in building online and mobile products and services for kids. Toy News Tuesday editors sat down with Chris to learn about the significance of this conference in our hyper-digital age.

TNT: Digital Kids Conference was previously called Engage! Expo. Can you tell us a bit about how the conference has changed and why?

CS: We’ve rebranded the conference due to the skyrocketing use of mobile and online devices by kids –children and “screenagers” are now among the most active users of smartphones and tablets.

To paint the picture a little bit clearer …  the Pew Research Center reports that today, 77% of teens have cell phones and that the average teen with a phone sends 60 texts per day, up from an average of 50 texts in 2009, and half of children under eight now have access to mobile devices. Even toddlers and preschoolers are getting in on the game – apps for very young kids grew by 23% over the last two years!

In light of this, we have re-focused the content of the conference so that we can help companies position themselves for success in the hyper-connected youth market.

TNT: What can conference goers expect to learn?

CS: In a nutshell, we’ll be looking at how information is instantaneously accessed by kids across a broad spectrum of platforms, with the help of panels, presentations and interviews that will highlight best practices, trends, business strategies and techniques for developing and marketing toys, games and more to digitally connected kids and youth.  This event is an ideal opportunity to connect with peers across various industries and get new business done while attending conference tracks focused on BusinessContentMarket ResearchOperations and Safety.

In all, 80+ speakers from industry-leading producers of kid-related digital content, services and software will address everything from games, mobile and tablet apps, virtual worlds, social media, and more.  Participating companies include Spin Master, Disney, LEGO, Sony Online, KIDZBOP, Mind Candy, Peanuts, Rovio/Angry Birds, Wizard101/KingsIsle, National Football League, Cartoon Network, Ubisoft, Cookie Jar, Google, Yahoo! Kids and The NPD Group among many others.

No matter what starting point, the 6th annual Digital Kids Conference will help participants make the most of their ventures.

TNT: What important things can toy industry stakeholders take away from this event?

CS: With regulatory scrutiny heating up following the disappointing findings in the FTC's Mobile Apps for Kids Report, children’s online and mobile safety will be a major focus of this year’s event and will provide a unique opportunity for businesses to gain the critical knowledge they need to safely engage with children via digital platforms.

We will be offering a first-of-its-kind, day-long forum on the opening day of the conference (April 25th), called the Digital Kids Safety Track, co-produced with the kidSAFE® Seal Program. This track will address issues challenging the operators of social networks, online games, mobile apps, virtual worlds, and related products and services for kids and youth, and feature a panel discussion with representatives from the FTC and State of California Special Attorney General's office, who will address the unique set of safety and privacy concerns the mobile space presents for children and how new COPPA (Children’s Online Protection Privacy Act) requirements could affect compliance.

TNT: Can you give us a “sneak peek” at some of the business strategies that will be revealed over the two days?

CS: I can’t give it all away before the event, but I can tell you that attendees will learn how to grow their brands by successfully blending their virtual and offline worlds. While it’s great to use digital platforms, it’s no longer sufficient to simply tap into online applications…  Digitally-connected toys and games need to integrate with additional channels, like licensing, in order to grow.

TNT: Who will be delivering the keynote speeches?

CS: Todd Coleman and Josef Hall, co-creators of KingsIsle Entertainment’s popular online game, Wizard101, will deliver the opening day keynote address – From Hardcore Gaming to the Kids Market. They'll discuss how they moved from the world of massive multiplayer online games and achieved critical and commercial success with the #1 AAA family-friendly online social game in North America.

Disney Mobile's SVP and General Manager, Bart Decrem, will deliver the second day keynote address, called Growing Up Mobile – Developing a Global Franchise for the Mobile Generation. Decrem leads the business unit behind the wildly successful ‘Where’s My Water?’ mobile gaming phenomenon. He will discuss how content producers are changing their ways to reach a generation growing up with mobile and tablet devices as their screens of choice.  He will also delve into how entertainment companies like Disney are changing their character development and consumer experiences to serve their next generation of guests.

Endorsed by the Toy Industry Association, the Digital Kids Conference is offering a discounted rate for TIA members with discount codes DKTIA1 ($100 off one day at the conference) or DKTIA2 ($200 off two days at the conference). Registration can be completed online; visit www.digitalkidscon.com for more information.