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Davis Turns Child’s Play Into Profits

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Stephen Davis is the president of Los Angeles-based Hasbro Studios. That means at the age of 49, he gets paid to sit at a conference table with other grown men and women, cull through Hasbro’s 1,500 brands and ask, “What should we play with today: Scrabble, Operation or Monopoly, or with our Transformer action figures?”

And when the toys are put away, he is then instrumental in converting playtime to primetime.

“If you tell me that as a dad you watch The Hub or play Hasbro games with your kids, that is not surprising,” says Davis. (Full disclosure: This reporter has a closet filled with Hasbro products, and three kids who love watching The Hub, the 50-50 network venture between Hasbro and Discovery Communications that replaced Discovery Kids last October. Though talking brand building with Davis is instructive whether you have removed a wrenched ankle while playing Operation recently or not.)

Davis joined Hasbro Studios in 2009 and helped to build it from the ground up. “We hear [about parents and kids watching The Hub together] a lot,” Davis says. “We have a very high co-viewing audience. In fact, in that demo, we are even beating Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network in some of our programming slots. So we de! nitely are broadening our coviewing audience.”

Since October 2010, such original shows as Family Game Night, G.I. Joe Renegades, Pictureka and TransformersPrime have increasingly become favorites in homes across America. And— holy programming!—if you hit The Hub at the right time, you can even watch the original Batman series with Adam West and Burt Ward.

In May, The Hub earned three Parents’ Choice awards for quality programming; one of which was for a show produced by Hasbro (Family Game Night). The freshman network also garnered eight 2011 Daytime Emmy nominations from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (winning two, both for Transformers Prime). That’s a pretty respectable showing compared with rivals Nickelodeon (27 nominations), Disney (8) and Cartoon Network (2).

The Hub, which is available in 62 million homes nationwide, has more than two dozen shows in production. While Hasbro is producing shows for The Hub, Davis is constantly developing new offerings from what he referred to as “an embarrassment of Hasbro’s riches” to keep the programming fresh. That includes the upcoming original shows The Game of Life and ScrabbleShowdown.

Davis believes The Hub has been able to, and will continue to, attract young viewers and their parents from Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network at a growing rate.

“These are phenomenally programmed networks and we have a lot to learn from them,” says Davis. “But we are making significant traction with a lot of our shows. They can’t help but realize that even though we are the new kids on the block, we are very serious about what we are doing. And that we will be very formidable as time goes on.”

Davis has been involved with marketing and studio production work since graduating from Michigan State in 1984. That includes five years as vice president, entertainment and media development at the Griffin Group, headed by television and show business icon Merv Griffin. Before joining Hasbro Studios, Davis served as CEO at production company Family Entertainment Group.

At Hasbro Studios, Davis has used his experience to build an organization, dubbed the “A-Team.” The members have not only honed their marketing chops at other studios, Davis says, but are also, in many ways, still kids at heart. And when speaking to kids and tweens via a TV network and strong supporting media such as the Internet and mobile, Davis knows authenticity is vital.

“We are always mindful of shifts in consumer behavior,” says Davis. “And Hasbro as a company, which has been around since 1913, is aware that our consumer base, although broad, is always changing. We do a lot of research. We observe. We talk to people. We are very careful to make sure that what we do reflects the needs of our audience.”

Hasbro Studios recently signed deals with Turner and MediaSet for international projects, putting The Hub on a course to attract more viewers worldwide.

“We are a global company, so we have a global sensibility about property development,” Davis explains. “That’s reflected in our storytelling approach. The opportunity for us internationally is tremendous. We are placing our shows on the biggest broadcast and cable outlets worldwide.”

Yet in all aspects of future plans both domestically and globally, Davis and his “A-Team” are well aware of the Hasbro heritage.

“One of the great challenges—and, frankly, one of the things that makes this job so exciting—is that we have an opportunity to reimagine, reignite and reinvent Hasbro’s brands for a contemporary audience,” Davis says. “Our No. 1 job is to make sure we are telling great stories. But there is no question that we are a toy company. We have to be sure that we are being very mindful of the company’s DNA and what makes it tick in its primary form and format, which is toys and games.”

This all sounds cool from the outside. But do the real experts—Davis’ kids— think his job makes him a cool dad?

“My three kids [two daughters, ages 20 and 10, and a 17-year-old son] love to hang out at Hasbro Studios,” he says. “My youngest daughter literally comes to work with me whenever she can. I tell her that I’ll be in meetings all day, but she says, ‘I’ll stay in your office,’ which is full of toys.”

And it’s not just his kids and wife who bene! t from the job. Recalls Davis, “Dick Lippin [chairman/CEO of The Lippin Group, which handles media/ PR for Hasbro Studios] recently asked me, ‘Did you ever think at this stage in your life that you’d be playing with toys all day?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’”