Loesch: The Hub 'Overwhelmed' By Producer Interest

Margaret Loesch, CEO of planned kids' network The Hub, says the joint venture of Discovery and Hasbro has at least 25 projects in development ahead of the fall 2010 launch.

Loesch, in a telephone interview shortly after the network's name and logo were released at the Television Critics Association gathering in Pasadena, Calif., said the lineup would be a mix of programs from toy maker Hasbro's studios and from independent producers -- possibly including producers whose shows are now on Discovery Kids, the 60-million subscriber network that will become The Hub.

"We have been not surprised but somewhat overwhelmed by the outpouring of interest from the production and creative community in the channel," the longtime producer and programming executive said. "They've had to go to the same customers -- they're not very many -- and most of those customers being Nickelodeon and Disney and even Cartoon Network, they want to own as much of the production as they can.

"We're approaching it a little differently," she said. "We're saying to producers, we are a new network, we encourage you to bring your projects to us, you can retain ownership, we'll try to assist in finding deficit funding partners. We're trying to be very creative in our dealmaking. Having gone back into the production community the last six years, I know how hard it is to get projects onto air. We're trying to be very inviting."

"I hope what you'll see, when we have our slate, is not only an eclectic array of programs but an eclectic group of producers and creators," she said.

Discovery and Hasbro agreed to to the JV in April 2009, with Discovery banking $300 million from Hasbro and contributing Discovery Kids into the partnership. Loesch was hired in July. Compared with, say, the oft-delayed Oprah Winfrey Network venture of Discovery's, this channel seems to be coming together quickly.

"We are going fast. That is I think one of the reasons they hired me and why we've put together the team that we have," Loesch said. Many of the 18 (rising to 21 soon) employees on board have independent production and network experience, she said. "When you're a producer, time is money. Time is everything. We do have some competition that's extremely organized and good at what they do, so we don't want to waste any time."

What she didn't say was that the weeks before Christmas will be an important time for advertisers, and for joint venture partner Hasbro, to sell goods. Loesch wouldn't pin down what month The Hub would launch.

The Hub's backers are still discussing ad strategies, she said. Loesch said there has been discussion of airing no ads during a morning preschoolers' block. She also would like to keep the ad load down overall, to reduce clutter. "That's a dream of mine," she said. "But is it going to be reality? We'll find out." The network is keen to create an overall attractive environment for advertisers, she said.

As for general criticism at the outset of a network aimed at children that's half owned by a toy maker, Loesch said what Discovery and Hasbro executives have said all along: judge by the results.

"I will select shows that I think are going to excite kids and attract kids," she said. "There are some wonderful brands out of Hasbro that I think resonate with kids from a storytelling and character basis. And there are projects that no one's ever heard of from the creator that I have yet to meet. We're going to have be a very diversified mix."

"There's always going to be criticism," she said. "But I think when you see what we're doing, people will embrace it and the audience will embrace it and parents will embrace it."

Hasbro brands certain to be represented in The Hub programming are My Little Pony and Transformers, shows Loesch said she worked on in earlier iterations. "I have to say that I'm just delighted with the scripts" being worked on for those shows so far, she said.

The Hub was a name that was an early favorite that stuck and was vetted through qualitative focus testing. "We love the name because it connotes a destination," Loesch said, though network branding will have to explain to young kids what a hub means in that sense.

"We're trying to embrace the concept of playfulness and play and curiousity, exploration," Loesch said when asked if the channel had an overarching philosophy. "That's part of the reason why The Hub is so strong for us: if we create this sense of place, and we have these philosophies that we want kids to celebrate play ... ."

She also said the channel would like to create programming kids and caregivers can enjoy together. "We're developing some programming that we really think will engage kids and their families. And I would love nothing better than to be successful with that."

Loesch said The Hub has retained kids' media expert Dr. Helen Boehm, with whom she had worked earlier at Fox, to head an advisory board that will help steer the network into programming that will resonate with families and away from conflicts with the Federal Communications Commission over ad issues.

The programming will address kids ages 3-12 but will focus, especially in the afternoon, on kids ages 8-12, which Loesch considers to be an underserved audience.