It’s not launching until late 2010, but the 50/50 joint-venture channel being created by toy giant Hasbro and Discovery Communications has ambitions to offer US kids under 14 a solid alternative to the big three US kidnets, Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network.
The ink had just dried on the deal at press time, and according to Hasbro’s GM of entertainment and licensing, Lisa Licht, the top priority for the partners was finding a GM to oversee the yet-to-be-named network that will reach more than 60 million households when it takes over Discovery Kids’ airwaves at launch.
As for what the new net will offer, Discovery Communications president of digital media and corporate development, Bruce Campbell, says it won’t bear the distinct hallmarks of either Hasbro or Discovery. ‘It will be its own brand and will have the opportunity to pick from great IPs that both of us have,’ he says.
To that end, Hasbro is setting up a production studio to create programming for its brands that’s granting the new kidnet first-look rights. Hasbro reps have confirmed the company’s looking for a creative head and about 20 staff for the studio with a production budget that could reach US$100 million annually, depending on ratings, sales and licensing success once it’s up and running.
‘We’ve always looked at extending our brands beyond toys through games, publishing, movies and television programming,’ says Licht. ‘Going back to TV is a natural step because we’ve been successful with it before in the 1980s with My Little Pony, G.I. Joe and Transformers,’ she adds. Properties currently on deck for development include Romper Room, Tonka, G.I. Joe, Transformers and My Little Pony.
DK’s sizeable vault of programming that contains series such as Bindi the Jungle Girl, Endurance, Tutenstein, Hi-5, Flight 29 Down and Peep and the Big Wide World, will also get airtime on the JV network. And both Licht and Campbell say there will be opportunities for third-party programming, including original co-pros.
Campbell says the combined assets of the two companies give the channel a lot of flexibility to skew both older and younger. He sees, for example, a real opportunity to establish a preschool daypart around Hasbro properties like Romper Room and Playskool.
Not surprisingly, with the number of overtly commercial properties in Hasbro’s portfolio being readied for the TV world that already have significant licensing programs attached (i.e. My Little Pony), the new venture has met with skepticism from consumer advocacy groups like Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The fear is that the channel will be a home to shameless product placement and merch-driven series and not much else. ‘We and Hasbro have had a very clear understanding that this is certainly not going to be a channel about toys,’ counters Campbell. ‘It’s going to be a channel about good, entertaining, compelling and educational programming.’
The current DK feed will remain on-air until the new net is ready to launch and in the meantime Discovery is handling advertising sales services, distribution, origination and other operational requirements. Hasbro paid US$300 million for its 50% stake in the JV that does not extend to DK international channels. Discovery will continue to own and operate those channels and their related licensing and merchandising lines of business.