New ‘Superbook’ meets market need Print
Written by Deborah Christensen   
Wednesday, 04 November 2015 04:53 PM America/New_York

Increase Bible engagement with Scripture-focused children’s DVDs

JoyGizmoChrisMany adults recall their favorite stories from the Saturday morning cartoons or holiday classics they watched in their childhood. Recognizing the power of animation in conveying Bible-based stories, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) created the Superbook children’s series in 1981.

Superbook shared the adventures of characters Chris and Joy and their robot, Gizmo. A mysterious device—Superbook—transported them into history where they met heroes of the Bible and learned valuable lessons. Originally, the series was part of a successful outreach to Japan.

“Over 8 million people a night watched Superbook on Japanese prime-time television, and the Bible became the nation’s best-selling book,” said Edie Wasserberg, CBN’s vice president of development integration.

The series also aired on the Soviet National Channel in the Soviet Union.

“CBN received over 6 million letters from children, introducing an entire generation to the Bible,” Wasserberg said.

Eventually, Superbook aired in the U.S. and around the world with more than 500 million people watching. Fifty-two episodes were translated in 43 languages and broadcast in 106 countries.

A New Chapter

Today, children expect more from the media they watch, as animation has achieved a higher level of quality.

“As enduring as the original 1981 series was, we needed to reimagine the look of the animation,” Wasserberg said.

In 2010, CBN assembled a team of writers, designers, storyboard artists, composers and sound designers to update Superbook for today’s generation. This talent came from a wide variety of animation leaders: Disney, Blue Sky Studios, DreamWorks, Fox, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Sony Animation, Universal and Warner Bros. Studios. Their credits include The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Mulan.

The reimagined Superbook episodes use the newest 3-D CGI (computer-generated imagery) technology. They also include English and Spanish audio tracks along with English and Spanish closed captioning. The episodes have appeared on ABC Family, CBS, NBC and Fox.

“Together, we’ve been able to create high-quality visuals, fun characters and engaging stories that children and families love to watch,” Wasserberg said.

Despite its success,  the new Superbook was not being sold at retail. Aware of this lack, Charisma Media contacted CBN in 2014 and proposed a distribution partnership to bring the new Superbook to retail.

“Our companies have a lot in common—complementary strengths and a mutual trust in each other’s influence and expertise,” said Marcos Perez, senior vice president, sales and marketing for the Charisma House Book Group.

CBN CEO Gordon Robertson echoed that sentiment, noting that since 1975, Charisma Media (then Strang Communications) has “been on the forefront of educating, equipping and empowering Christians through its wonderful publications. Charisma Media honors and continues this rich legacy as it utilizes new technologies. For CBN, having a partnership with Charisma Media gives us the ability to reach even more children with stories of the Bible.”

Tessie DeVore, executive vice president and publisher for Charisma House, appreciates the values that led to the partnership with CBN.

“There is a common ethos between CBN and Charisma Media to use all forms of mass communication to glorify God and His Son, Jesus Christ,” DeVore said. “Our partnership with CBN provides a unique opportunity to engage children with gospel-centered spiritual truths for years to come.”

A Digital World

With a market filled with digital tablets, smartphones and streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu, it’s easy to question the future of children’s DVDs.

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, a parenting and childhood expert, keeps up on developments in the children’s market.

“One unknown is how the emerging wave of millennial parents will utilize DVDs,” Simon told Christian Retailing. “Millennial moms love their small screens, which slide easily into their primary mode of multitasking.”

Some retailers have noticed the change.

“I’ve been with CLC for about nine years, and I’ve seen a change in sales,” said Dionne Cephas, assistant manager of CLC Cedarbrook Plaza in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. “Streaming services can be very convenient.”

But it’s not just streaming that has affected sales.

“Technology and the interactive video games that kids play on their devices have affected the DVD industry for children,” said Barbi Shupe, owner of Heaven and Earth in Hampton, Virginia.

That doesn’t mean children’s DVDs are on their way out. Cephas observed that streaming services don’t always offer updated shows.

“That’s where buying DVDs comes into play,” the CLC retailer said.

A Matter of Timing

Recently, retailers have also noticed a slowdown of new Christian DVDs for kids.CreationHeaven

“The momentum of new product just isn’t there like it was in the recent past,” Perez said. “The problem is not the demand—it’s the supply.”

Superbook DVDs seem to have come at the right time. First, they provide retailers with a dependable stream of new releases. Season 1 features 13 DVDs that will be released on a staggered schedule. In October, two DVDs were released to the trade, The First Christmas and In the Beginning. Charisma Media plans to release an average of two DVDs a month until March 2016. At that time, The Miracles of Jesus, The Last Supper and He Is Risen will release in time for Easter.

Secondly, the series appeals to older kids than VeggieTales does.

With the target audience at 6-11 years old, “families who bought VeggieTales over the last three or four years are prime consumers for Superbook today,” Perez said.

Finally, Superbook has a discipleship aspect that no other animated series offers for this age group. Biblical characters quote Scripture in the series.

“God’s Word is a key component to each script,” said Perez, adding that the DVD teams paid close attention to research so they could “achieve biblical/historical accuracy in the animation itself.”

Each episode comes with a bonus—a discipleship booklet that includes a family discussion guide.

“This is a great tool that families can use to enhance the discipleship aspect of each episode, and to further engage their children in applying the principles of God to their lives,” Perez said.

An Active Campaign

Charisma Media has a significant marketing plan for the new Superbook.

“We have launched a comprehensive, six-figure marketing plan to support this trade release by maximizing the brand equity in Superbook through strategic initiatives, according to the respective strengths and influences of both CBN and Charisma Media,” Perez said. “Our marketing program is designed to build awareness and drive in-store traffic through tactics that involve a myriad of activity in print magazines, radio, TV, Web, social media and major church events in key markets throughout the country.”

Simon suggested that stores also host a family movie night, showing an episode on a big screen in the parking lot or on a jumbo screen in the store.

“Float the idea with homeschool groups that might already meet at the store to get their response,” she advised.

Perez also suggested that retailers highlight the discussion guide and make local churches aware of Superbook as a resource they can use in children’s ministry.

Charisma Media can offer Christian retailers several tools to assist with marketing, including:

  • Video loops—Play the loops in your store to introduce customers to the DVDs.
  • Collateral materials—This includes posters and other materials. Contact Charisma Media and choose the materials that work best for your store.
  • Email templates—Use these to send e-blasts about Superbook to your mailing list, keeping customers informed of each new release.
  • Endcap kits—Available in January, the kits will allow you to display five nonseasonal episodes. As more episodes become available, retailers can change the episodes they feature on the endcap.

A nostalgic product

The suggested retail price of $15.99 makes these quality DVDs affordable for families.

“The unique value proposition of Superbook is clear,” Perez said. “And the product quality speaks for itself.”

Many Christian retail customers are parents and grandparents. Either they grew up watching classic Superbook episodes in the 1980s or their children, who now have children of their own, did. Retailers will benefit as they tap into that nostalgia.

Placing Superbook releases in your children’s DVD section gives customers a good reason to come to your store. Emphasize to customers that the new series isn’t available through streaming.

Superbook conveys the message of God’s love to children in a fresh way. As CLC Bookcenter’s Cephas said, “It’s always great to see the smile on a child’s face when they are getting a new DVD.” CR

Deborah Christensen is a freelance writer and editor with nearly 30 years’ experience.