Discovery, Hasbro Aim for Perfect 10s

Discovery Communications has set a launch lineup and date-Oct. 10, 2010, or 10/10/10-for its new entrant in the kids programming field, The Hub.

Network executives are pitching media agencies on the concept- aimed at kids 2 to 12- which joins a crowded market already served by outlets from Viacom's Nickelodeon, Time Warner's Cartoon and Walt Disney's Disney brand. The PBS Kids and PBS Sprout brands also exert a strong hold on young viewers, and other players such as NBC Universal's SyFy are eyeing the category.

The Discovery/Hasbro-owned channel, which is replacing Discovery Kids, is aimed at filling a niche that executives feel has been underserved by existing channels in the space that have been chasing slightly older children. Veteran kids and family producer Margaret Loesch, who is spearheading the network, also feels strongly that there is a lack of programming for families, which The Hub will cater to as well. "There is a creative opening for us," Loesch told B&C. "There seems to be an emerging trend of aging up to tweens and older."

Commenting on striking the right tone, Loesch added: "Kids are observant. We have to always remember they can't be underestimated."

The Hub, intended to connote "the center of things," will mount at least two shows from Hasbro's production studio. The company will serve up the studio's series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, based on the popular toy, and Transformers, already a successful toy-tomovie franchise. Many shows, however, will be acquired until The Hub establishes its footing.

Other original pickups include a series called the Wot Wots, pitched at ages 3 to 5. It comes from New Zealand production company WETA Workshop and Pukeko Pictures, which was involved with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hub will also air a show called Cosmic Quantum Ray from Los Angeles-based Moonscoop; the program is aimed at helping kids understand the basics of quantum physics.

Few of the shows currently airing on Discovery Kids will make the cut with the new channel, given that production has long since ended on many of them or there aren't enough new shows being produced, Loesch explains. She formerly worked at Hanna-Barbera on shows such as Scooby-Doo, and launched Fox Kids Network with the 1990s kids phenomenon Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Before joining The Hub last summer, Loesch was making movies for Hallmark Channel, a network she helped found.

Loesch is still developing many programming ideas for The Hub, but is selecting multiple genres from game shows to family movies and animation. Her team is working on the interstitials and the overall look and feel of the service, which will have a variety of dayparts. Preschool will air in the mornings, and slightly older kids are targeted in the early afternoon. A block called Kids Prime will follow in the afternoon, while shows like Transformers will greet kids after school. Family Prime is aimed at enticing adults to watch with their children.

The network will be in 60 million homes, and while Discovery will take care of affiliate relations, The Hub has its own sales rep in Brooke Goldstein, senior VP of ad sales. Goldstein joins from agency MediaCom and is based in New York. Programming operations are based in Los Angeles.

When asked about the number of ad minutes, Loesch said: "We are still working on the ad minutes. During preschool there will be a significantly diminished commercial load, but it won't be commercial-free."Commercial time in children's shows is limited to no more than 10 1/2 minutes per hour on weekdays and 12 minutes per hour on weekends. There are also requirements for clear breaks between shows and commercials.

Since the channel will still target 2-to 14-year-olds as its primary demographic, Discovery does not need to renegotiate carriage agreements with pay-TV partners.

As for an Internet play, a vitally important part of connecting with tech-savvy children these days, Loesch adds, "We have to be everywhere and we plan to be everywhere," though executing a fulsome online play may take some time.