New kids net has made strides but needs to increase output

The new kid on the block in kids’ programming has made early strides, but still has a lot of growing up to do.

The Hub, a co-venture between Discovery Communications and Hasbro, began airing on Oct. 10 as a rebranded version of Discovery Kids. While it premiered to a vastly larger audience than Discovery Kids, it remains far behind such more established players, such as Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network, in the kids’ cable market.

Nearly five months after its bow, the Hub, which is aimed at the 6- to 11-year-old set, can point to some winning programs. Most notably is “Transformers Prime,” a half-hour CGI original that debuted Feb. 11 and delivered 172,000 delivered households. “Family Game Night,” featuring two teams competing at interactive versions of Hasbro games such as Boggle, Twister and Scrabble, has also been a solid performer.

But success has been limited to date, in part, because of some unique hurdles the net must navigate. Hasbro’s involvement has meant a windfall access to such beloved brands as G.I. Joe and My Little Pony, but it has also served as a deterrent for some advertisers.

For example, Mattel — Hasbro’s biggest competitor in the toy market — has declined to advertise on the Hub thus far. (Hasbro currently represents approximately 15% of the channel’s advertising.) In addition, the Hub is currently available in only 61 million households. In comparison, most of its competitors are in about 100 million homes.

Darcy Bowe, associate director for ad firm Starcom USA, praises the new channel for its initial efforts, but believes more is needed.

“They are going to need more than two (breakout) shows to continue to entice people. We need to see more original programming,” Bowe says.

Hub president and CEO Margaret Loesch appears to agree. The savvy veteran kids programmer and producer has an ambitious three-year plan that emphasizes original programming as part of an effort to move up the children’s broadcasting ladder and compete regularly with the powerhouses of the genre.

In its current lineup, approximately 20% of the programming is homegrown — a number Loesch hopes to increase to 50%. She is also aiming to diversify the Hub’s slate. This includes “looking at the music genre but not duplicating what Disney is doing,” Loesch says, and developing a couple of shows “that represent the kind of freshness … of ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse.’”

Loesch is hoping that if the Hub can become one of the kids biz’s dominant players, Mattel and others will feel forced to offer their wares to prospective product-buying parents.

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