Design Edge up for top toy honors

By GREGORY ZELLER //

Friends up high in the Walt Disney Co. and a digital upgrade have revived a popular children’s product from a decade ago – and earned the Long Island invention a prestigious award nomination.

Storytime Theater, an interactive multimedia storybook device invented by Design Edge CEO Matt Nuccio, is back, super-powered with a state-of-the-art digital projector, a smart-device interface and content spanning today’s most popular titles and brands, from “Frozen” to “Star Wars.”

At least, it will: Nuccio noted that content related to “Star Wars,” “The Avengers” and other recent Disney acquisitions is coming soon to the new Storytime Theater, which hit retail shelves over the summer with content focused on Disney’s most popular children’s fare, including “Frozen” and “Toy Story.”

“It’s going to include Marvel and ‘Star Wars,’ anything and everything in the Disney portfolio,” Nuccio said. “It’s going to get bigger and bigger.”

Design Edge CEO Matt Nuccio, with friends.

Design Edge CEO Matt Nuccio, with friends.

Going exclusively with Disney’s tried-and-true animation stalwarts didn’t stop the Storytime Theater from earning a “Toy of the Year” nomination from the national Toy Industry Association, a not-for-profit trade association representing businesses that create and deliver toys and youth-entertainment products.

The association, celebrating its 100th anniversary next year, named Storytime Theater a finalist in the Infant/Toddler Toy of the Year category, joining six other products manufactured by heavyweights including Fisher-Price and Playskool.

“This is like the Grammys of the toy business,” Nuccio told Innovate LI. “Usually, the things that get nominated are developed internally at the Hasbros and Mattels of the world. They’re all based on how things perform in retail.”

The product’s Disneyfication doubtlessly helped, though private Canadian toy manufacturer Tech 4 Kids, which produces the new Storytime Theater for Disney, is actually named in the nomination. Tech 4 Kids is the third member of a corporate trinity that reanimated Nuccio’s original product, which enjoyed a short though successful run between 2004 and 2005.

That first incarnation wasn’t digital, Nuccio noted, but a simple device that projected pictures on a wall, updating them as the user turned the pages of a plugged-in electronic storybook. Content included top titles of the early 2000s, including “Dora the Explorer,” “Spider-Man” and other well-known characters and brands in the Disney, Marvel and Nickelodeon stables.

Although fairly limited technologically, Storytime Theater 1.0 did “fairly well,” Nuccio added, well enough that Disney approached Design Edge about bringing it back a decade after it went out of production. Nuccio’s Bethpage-based manufacturing company deals often with Disney, according to the CEO, and a representative of Disney’s publishing division actually started a “loose conversation” about a reboot.

“Of course, I jumped on it,” Nuccio said.

Disney became a third-party licenser and Tech 4 Kids was brought in for the actual manufacturing. The upgraded model includes a digital projector and a downloadable app that allows the Storytime Theater to be controlled by any smart device, and while its content is now “limited” to Disney properties, that’s a fairly rich library, with everything from Mickey Mouse to Darth Vader in play.

With Disney in its corner, the new Storytime Theater is quickly becoming a tent-pole product for Design Edge, which specializes in creating products, packaging, promotional displays and prototypes for tinkerers and entrepreneurs of every size. The company – launched in 1987 in the Merrick garage of Mark and Linda Nuccio, Matt’s parents – also boasts a number of in-house products that have achieved various levels of international success.

None, however, has achieved the recognition of the new-and-improved Storytime Theater, which represents Design Edge’s first-ever TOTY nomination. The reincarnated storybook now faces challengers including Fisher-Price’s Bright Beats Smart Touch Play Space and Little Tikes’ Lil Ocean Explorers 3-in-1 Adventure Course in the Infant/Toddler Toy of the Year category.

All told, the Toy Industry Association reviewed 700 nominations to select 84 finalists in 12 categories, including separate categories for the Boy Toy and Girl Toy of the Year, the Educational Toy of the Year and the Game of the Year. The association also honors an Outdoor Toy of the Year, a Specialty Toy of the Year – distributed exclusively through specialty retailers – and a Property of the Year, highlighting toy lines or entertainment franchises with significant toy-industry impacts. This year’s nominees include the “Jurassic Park” and “Star Wars” juggernauts and Activision Publishing’s “Skylander” series.

The public can vote online for favorite TOTYs through Jan. 17, plenty of time for hands-on reviews of all those holiday gifts. The Toy Industry Association is expected to announce the winners Feb. 12 during the kickoff event for the 113th North American International Toy Fair at New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

A win would be great, according to Nuccio, but just being nominated alongside so many major-league franchises – and being mentioned in the same breath as The LEGO Group and K’NEX Brands – is a victory unto itself for a small toy tinkerer from Bethpage.

“Win or lose, for a smaller company to get a TOTY nomination is huge,” Nuccio said. “A win would be fantastic, but from a business perspective, being nominated is as good as it gets. I’ve already got a ton of companies calling me for meetings, wanting to see what’s next.”