Advocacy group files federal complaint against makers of videos for infants


NEW YORK (AP) – A children’s advocacy group filed a complaint Monday with the Federal Trade Commission contending that Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, leading producers of videos for infants and toddlers, are marketing those products without evidence to support claims they are beneficial.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood asked the FTC to prohibit the companies from making claims about the videos’ educational benefits, and to require that ads and packaging for the products display the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of no TV and video watching for children under 2.

“These companies are exploiting parents’ natural tendency to want what’s best for their children, and their deceptive marketing may be putting babies at risk,” said Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and member of the Boston-based advocacy group.

There was no immediate comment from Baby Einstein, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co. Its communications office said a response was being prepared.

Dennis Fedoruk, president and CEO of the Brainy Baby Co., said feedback from parents had been consistently positive since his family-owned company in Alpharetta, Ga., began making videos for infants in 1995.

The complaint with the FTC “is making the assumption that parents don’t know what they’re doing and can’t make an intelligent decision for themselves,” he said. “It’s time we let the parents make these decisions.”

Fedoruk also suggested that parents give little credence to the pediatrics academy recommendation that children under 2 shouldn’t watch television.

“They can make recommendations all day long,” Fedoruk said. “I think they’re overreaching.”

The complaint accuses the manufacturers of claiming without corroboration that the videos have educational and developmental value. It cites advertisements and promotional material on the companies’ Web sites, such as a claim by Baby Einstein that its “Baby Wordsworth” video can help a toddler learn words in Spanish, French and English.

Similarly, the complaint cites a claim by Brainy Baby that its Peek-A-Boo video “helps nurture such important skills as object permanence, communication skills, cause and effect, language development and many others.”

“No research or evidence exists to support Baby Einstein’s and Brainy Baby’s claims,” the complaint says. “In fact, preliminary research suggests that television is a poor tool for educating very young children.”

Brainy Baby’s Fedoruk denied that his company was making any farfetched claims.

“We’re not making promises that our videos will make your child a genius,” he said. “We suggest parents use our videos in a balanced approach as they would any learning tool.”

The market for baby videos has proven to be sizable, with sales to date estimated at more than $1 billion.

Baby Einstein dominates the field, with sales of $200 million in 2005. The company was founded in 1997 by Julie Ainger-Clark, a mother and former educator, and was purchased by Disney in 2001.