Upfronts 2014: Network Seeks to Be Hub for Family Viewing

Kids channel the Hub Network plans to develop original programming for prime time designed for families to watch together.

The channel, owned by toy company Hasbro and Discovery Communications, is presenting its new focus to upfront advertisers, who are looking for family friendly content that appeals to both adults and children.

Since its launch in 2010, The Hub has successfully courted co-viewing audiences with its Family Game Night show. In September, it will be joined in prime time by a new reality show, Parents Just Don't Understand.

Hosted and executive produced by former N Sync band member Joey Fatone, Parents Just Don't Understand will give real kids and their parents a chance to swap places and see the other person's point of view, Freaky Friday style.

Margaret Loesch, CEO of Hub Network, says Parents Just Don't Understand is the first of a slate of original shows designed for family viewing.

"We'd been putting on primarily acquired programming and we think now is the time to stake a bigger claim with families watching together," Loesch says. "We're going to do scripted comedies, we're doing this unscripted show, and we'll be having other shows we'll usher in. We really want to make prime time a robust place for families to come together and watch together and we want adults to find it as relevant as kids."

Deals for the other shows are still being finalized. One scripted sitcom is supposed to launch in the fourth quarter, another in the first quarter. A series based on what Loesch described as "an Internet sensation," is schedule to launch in the summer, to build momentum for the fall. "We're looking to create a diverse slate of different types of shows," she says. The company in January launched a new on-air look designed to be engaging to today's families, she added.

Other kids' networks, including Viacom's Nickelodeon, Time Warner's Cartoon Network and Comcast's Sprout have also been trying to appeal to advertisers looking to reach families viewing together.

"We've certainly seen a lot of comments in the press where they're claiming families now too," Loesch says. "Hopefully we present something that is differentiated and unique and we'll succeed. But I've never minded competition. I think it's validating and it makes us all work a little harder."

Last year, Hub Network had ad revenues of $55.8 million, according to an estimate by SNL Kagan. By comparison, Nickelodeon's ad revenues were $1.04 billion and Cartoon Network's were $508.3 million.

The Hub Network conducted research to support its focus on family programming.

Nicole Cleary, Hub Network's VP of national ad sales, says one study found that 86% of parents and 84% of kids want a channel they can watch together. Only a quarter of parents are satisfied with the content out there, the study found.

"To me that says more than opportunity, that says, wow, we're missing something that we don't even know we're missing in prime time," Cleary says. "The number one goal of all parents [and children] is they want a happy family and I think we're going to give them the safe seal to experience television together again."

The data won over Hub's board of directors. And the network is counting on the programs to appeal to advertisers.

Cleary says Hub began making presentations two weeks ago and that she still has about 100 meetings to go.

"Consistently since we've launched, Family Game Night has been an advertiser favorite from the sponsorship perspective, only because of the content, but because of who it was reaching," she said. "Reaching mom and speaking to family is becoming increasingly important for a variety of different categories, ones that you wouldn't necessarily think are endemic to a quote-unquote kids network."

Family Game Night has been sponsored by retailers, toy companies, and packaged goods makers. Because it's still a kids network, Hub avoids product integrations, but it creates live action vignettes and co-branded tune in spots that makes the sponsor feel like they own the show.

Cleary expects to do the same with Parents Just Don't Understand.

"What I hope this does is open us up to categories like retail and auto and wireless and travel and tourism," she said.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.