When Discovery Communications/Hasbro joint-venture The Hub Network announced it would relaunch on October 13, 2014 under the new name Discovery Family Channel, the intent was to continue growing the kids daypart. The majority of content would come from Hasbro Studios (more than 50%) and during primetime the net would broadcast a wider selection of family-friendly, real-world programs culled from Discovery’s deep content vault.
And in just a few months, executives at the channel have noticed significant changes. “What we’ve seen so far is an almost immediate shift to a different demo in primetime,” says Tom Cosgrove, who came on-board as GM after leaving his post as CEO and president of Sony/Discovery/Imax joint-venture 3net.
“Our median age went from about 20 years old to mid-30s almost overnight. We’ve also shifted from a very female audience to 50/50. We’ve gone from younger girls watching with their moms to a family audience. There is still a lot to develop, but it’s what we set out to do.”
To make the necessary programming changes, Discovery took a 60% majority stake in the channel, which meant Hasbro’s share dropped to 40%.
Despite the decrease, Cosgrove says the channel remains just as committed to the kids daypart, which runs from approximately 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. “It’s roughly half of our schedule. Hasbro is still a huge partner and a big supplier of our content,” he says. “But they are not the only supplier. We are actively talking to some others and will continue to air third-party content.”
For its kids audience, Discovery Family Channel was quick to bring back popular Hasbro animated series Transformers Rescue Bots, which skews to younger Transformers fans. But under the new strategy, the older-skewing Transformers: Robots in Disguise ended up being licensed to Cartoon Network.
“Robots in Disguise is a great IP, but it is less of a fit for us. The types of daytime shows that work best for us skew more towards My Little Pony, Littlest Pet Shop and Pound Puppies,” says Cosgrove.
Those series have all returned to the daytime lineup, but the channel also required some new programming. It landed big ratings with the addition of My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks. The latest iteration of the hit franchise, the made-for-TV movie aired in afternoon and early primetime slots. “It’s done really well and attracted not only kids, but also a good adult audience, too,” says Cosgrove.
To maximize co-viewing, the channel brought former Discovery Networks International VP of production and factual development Sarah Davies on-board to help guide the network’s direction. Popular programs including Superhuman, Time Warp, Flying Wild Alaska, Africa and Extreme Engineering: Biggest Reveals were quickly added to the lineup.
Cosgrove is currently looking for additional shows in this vein, primarily non-fiction with lots of adventure, science, natural history and animals, and he’s not averse to acquiring movies.
“We are building on a library of acquired movies because they work well to bring in a family audience,” he says, noting the channel is also eyeing stories about big historical mysteries.
“These types of programs have been a little less touched in recent years by a lot of the networks. Stories about Egypt, the Titanic and Amelia Earhart have worked surprisingly well for us.”
Looking ahead, Cosgrove says the biggest challenge will be getting the word out about Discovery Family Channel itself. “We’re a relatively new brand, and like any new brand we’re trying to carve out our niche,” he says.
As the channel looks to build on The Hub Network’s reach of 70 million US homes and increase co-view ratings, it plans to leverage the power of its biggest brands on-air, across social media, online fan sites and through retail.
It recently held a successful Twitter party for the premiere of Transformers Rescue Bots, and cross-promotional strategies are in the works with Hasbro, Discovery Kids and newly launched Discovery Consumer Products.
“The retail business is a long lead, about 18 months to two years,” says Cosgrove. “It takes time, but we’ve had some initial discussions. It’s a natural fit.”
This article originally appeared in the February/March issue of Kidscreen