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First On CNBC: Mattel Makes "Play" With High-Tech Toys

Mattel
Mattel

The country’s biggest toy fair is now underway in New York, and Mattel CEO Bob Eckert joined CNBC's Sue Herera to discuss the toymaker’s new product line.

In an era when the iPod and X-Box are as transposable to children as Barbie and Ken once were, toymakers are scurrying to reinvent the toy to better reflect what kids really want.

As is evident with Mattel’s new products, toy companies are betting on high-tech, interactive toys to compete with digital music players and video games that have taken a chunk out of their bottom lines as they have soared to unprecedented popularity – even among the youngest consumers – in recent years.

On "Power Lunch," Eckert picked out several toys he expects to be big winners with kids, and the parents that will have to shell out for them.

First up is Chat Divas Barbie – a new take on the timeless doll that allows children to sync their iPods with the doll so it will “sing along” with whatever is playing. The new Barbie also comes with a mini-cell phone and answers it when it rings. The doll retails for $29.99 and is for children 5 years and older.

Eckert also plans to capitalize on his company’s success with T.M.X. Elmo (the laughing doll was the industry’s leading seller last year) by releasing other Sesame Street characters like Cookie Monster and Ernie in the same format. The new dolls, for children 18 months and older, will be available in October – in time for the holiday shopping season – and will go for $29.99.

In the clearest indication that Mattel sees room for profit on the technology front, the company is manufacturing three new toys that integrate the web directly into the toy’s functionality. Funkeys - designed by Radica Games, a company Mattel acquired last fall - put together “collecting and connecting,” Eckert says, by offering collectible figurines that, when plugged into a computer, allow children to play games using the toys. The figures will sell for $4.99 a piece and are aimed at children 8 and older. Eckert says he believes Funkeys are the “next generation of play.”

In addition, Mattel’s Fisher-Price division is debuting the Easy-Link Internet Launchpad – a product designed to permit children, even as young as 3, to navigate the web in a way that is “totally safe.” With Easy-Link, set to become available this summer for $29.99, Eckert says kids can emulate their parents on the computer without messing up mom and dad’s files or accessing any web sites other than ones that are specifically designated.

But Eckert says his favorite toy – and the one he thinks will be the company’s biggest revenue-producer this year – is the Smart Cycle. Essentially an exercise bike/arcade game for preschoolers, the Smart Cycle provides different scenarios for children to pedal through (while simultaneously offering a potentially much-needed cardio workout). The Smart Cycle will retail for $99.99 starting this July.

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  • Sue Herera is a founding member of CNBC, helping to launch the network in 1989. She is co-anchor of "Power Lunch."

  • "Power Lunch" & “Nightly Business Report” Co-Anchor

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Kenny Polcari