Baby Einstein refunds extended after activist fight

The popular Baby Einstein DVD series has come under fire by parenting activists.

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Are Baby Einstein DVDs the key to making sure your little one grows up to be a really smart Innovations blogger? In a word, no.

An argument over the discs' worth – they're marketed to parents of children under age 2 – and whether they're educational or just entertaining has come to a head.

Bowing to pressure from parenting advocate groups, the Baby Einstein Company (a subsidiary of Walt Disney Co.) in September extended its existing exchange and refund  program to five years, from the usual two months.

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The program, announced Sept. 4, allows parents dissatisfied with the DVDs to exchange up to four of them for a different Baby Einstein CD or book, or for a $15.99 refund, provided they were purchased between June 5, 2004 and September 4, 2009. This is in addition to the company's normal satisfaction guarantee program, which offers purchasers $19.99 refunds within 60 days of purchase.

A month and a half after the company announced the offer, the parenting group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CFCC) sent a press release that called the refund offer "a wonderful victory for families and anyone who cares about children" on its site. Several newspapers, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, then covered the refund, questioning if the DVDs worked at all. The Journal wondered if the series fed off "the allure of the digital babysitter."

Baby Einstein General Manager Susan McLain calls the controversy surrounding the refund program "a sensational, headline-grabbing publicity campaign that seeks to twist and spin a simple, customer satisfaction action into a false admission of guilt." McLain cites a Federal Trade Commission judgment – that Baby Einstein makes no claims to be educational – as evidence that her company has done no wrong.

The episode comes as Nielsen announces results from a study of US children's TV habits. It found that children age 2-5 spend some 32 hours a week in front of the television, and that for US children of all ages, time spent watching TV is at an eight-year high.

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