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TCA: Hub Chief Optimistic, Cautious About Launching Children's Network

Children's network The Hub opened the cable portion of the 2010 TCA Summer Press Tour, offering a first-look at the network's strategy and programming. President and CEO Margaret Loesch introduced the Discovery Communications/Hasbro Inc. joint venture, which will launch on Oct. 10. Programming includes game shows, specials and live-action and animated series. The Hub will also extend its content online, including a site for parents.

Speaking to reporters after the presentation, Loesch described a network that is optimistic yet cautious about its approach to launching another children's network in what has become a very crowded space.

"I am worried about kids being able to find us," she admitted. "I believe that if they watch us, they'll come back for more, but getting them to watch us is our biggest challenge."

Loesch sees The Hub as the response to a lack of traditional, family-oriented children's programming on television today. While she concedes that networks like PBS are highly successful with very young viewers, Loesch believes the Hub will ultimately flourish as an alternative for older children.

"What parents are saying is that there's a dearth of programming for six-to-eleven year olds. Programming for kids is now creeping into the tween and teen area. Some [parents] don't feel it is totally appropriate. I think we can go back to an age of innocence and put in playful concepts and marry it with educational concepts," she said.

Loesch says intensive marketing -- on other networks and in classrooms -- will be the Hub's immediate solution to attracting viewers. However, the network must also walk the fine line between product integration and parental expectation.

"We have no product placement on our shows. Zero," Loesch said.

Given this, the fact remains that a portion of Hub's debut programming is grounded in a slate of established toy enterprises, such as Transformers, My Little Pony and GI Joe. The network also plans to launch an original live-action scripted show based on the popular board game Clue.

However, Loesch contends that just 20 to 25% of Hub's programming reflects toy products, and that frankly, there's nothing wrong with that.

"Every network has a great deal of programming on it that is also on the toy shelf," she said. "Good ideas come from everywhere -- a toy, a book, from your head. If it's a good product, if it promotes healthy play and it gives comfort to a child, I don't see what the problem is. I do see what the problem is if that's all we do. But that's not all we're doing."

In that vein, Hub is taking a highly selective approach towards advertising. While ad policy is still in development, Loesch said the network is already rejecting ads that cater to "the sugar category."

"The problem is that I've encountered is the wide array [of sugary products]. Does that mean [for example] you can't advertise health bars? Instead of putting a moratorium on sugar, we're looking at ads on a case-by-case basis," Loesch said.

Hub will enter the market with a reduced commercial inventory throughout its entire schedule. Advertising during preschool programming will be especially restricted, with two minutes of national ad time per hour.