In a high-profile joint venture between Discovery Communications and Hasbro, The Hub premiered on Oct 10 as an official rebrand of Discovery Kids. Hub CEO Margaret Loesch tapped advertising veteran Brooke Goldstein as SVP, Advertising Sales in November 2009, shoring up the new entity’s senior team.
CableFAX contributor Nancy Nalven sat down with Brooke to discuss the network’s first five months on air and its plans at this week’s Upfront presentation in NYC.
The Hub is now five months old. How would you say the network is doing so far?
We’re doing great, we’re very excited about where we are. We premiered in 60 million homes, which is a great position to be in for a rebrand of a network. We started out with great programming and over the past few months have continued bringing great brands to life, such as R.L. Stine’s “The Haunting Hour” on Christmas Day and the launch of “Transformers Prime” in February. We’ve kept up the momentum by introducing new shows over the last few months.
What kind of reception did you receive from Madison Avenue?
It was very positive. From a pricing perspective, I think people wanted another player in the kids market. We created more supply in a space with very few players. Clients want options and we gave them a new option.
What were some of the early perceptions regarding the Discovery/Hasbro joint ownership?
We like to say our DNA is made up of both companies. We were fortunate to put ourselves in the middle of both companies — it’s an exciting and unique position to have in the marketplace. DCI is such a strong brand for exploration and discovery, and Hasbro is such a strong entertainment and branded play company. I think we benefit from two totally different mindsets each bringing something unique to the table.
There are such strong players in the kids arena. Last month, Disney rebranded its preschool block to Disney Junior in a really big way. How are you selling advertisers on the Hub’s unique value proposition?
One of the great things we have is the connection to the brands. The connection that Moms and Dads have to the brands makes us really unique. We have Transformers, “My Little Pony,” we brought back “Fraggle Rock.” When you walk into a room and you talk about Fraggle Rock, you get such an unbelievable response from people who grew up with it. It was refreshing to see planners and buyers having such a positive reaction.
What were some of the challenges of pre-selling the network prior to Oct 10?
Walking into a room and saying we don’t have something to touch and feel yet seemed like a big challenge at first, but we were fortunate because the people we met with had such a valuable connection to our brands and shows. So when we talked about “Pound Puppies” in a room, someone would talk about having a Pound Puppy when they were little. Even though we were a new property, we didn’t have to sell it as an unknown.
Were other toy manufacturers initially wary about the strong Hasbro presence, from both programming and advertising perspectives?
Initially we received some feedback but we ended up doing business with over 30 toy and game advertisers in 4Q. We will continue to grow our ratings and share in the kids space and hope to grow the advertisers as well.
What has been the biggest surprise to date?
I was pleasantly surprised by how connected people were to some of these properties and brands. Walking into the room and selling this for the first time and getting the reaction we got and realizing, ‘Wow, people really love these brands.’ People are really excited about our prime time lineup with Wonder Years and Doogie Howser M.D. We launched with more original programming than any other kids network launch.
How much do actual program ratings drive the sale?
Ratings are important, of course. We’re also really fortunate to have such a powerful brand and valuable co-viewing story.
What do you and your team do really well?
We meet one-on-one with clients to find ways to drive their business and help them sell products. We’re able to put together very solution-oriented sponsorships even with smaller advertisers in a way that more established kids channels like Nick and Cartoon probably can’t.
How important is the multiple platform sell: TV, web, On Demand?
It’s definitely important. We work with clients on integrated ideas and programs and we’ll continue to do so. We have hubworld.com. We do have our VOD platform. We have great programming in our VOD platform and will look to sell our inventory during the upfront. From a kids perspective, it’s important to be everywhere. We create multiplatform programs as the clients’ needs demand it. A lot of clients are focused on TV only or we work with digital agencies specifically on digital. We want to be able to reach and touch the consumer at all points. Content is king, and how we can reach them with our content is really important from our perspective, so we want to deliver that aspect for clients as well.
How important is the web component to a kids media brand?
We’ve done online only deals, we’ve done integrated deals. We launched hubworld.com about two weeks prior to the TV launch so that as we were communicating what the Hub was, there was an outlet for people to go to. Our web platform has been building since Day One and that will continue with new content and games on a daily basis.
Are you able to leverage cross-promotion with other Discovery platforms?
Yes, initially we worked with Discovery on cross promotional opportunities for the rebrand. And we do have advertisers that want to advertise across Discovery platforms, including us. There is definitely a lot of potential for cross-promotion with DCI especially with our strong co-viewing story.
Can you speak to some of the unique challenges to a kids TV network today such as legislative regulations related to childhood obesity, etc.?
We are very careful and conscious from an advertiser perspective. Margaret [Loesch, CEO] is such a great asset for us. She has been very focused on making sure we do the right thing. We have a reduced commercial load in our preschool block because we want to do the right thing for kids. Margaret is definitely focused on watching the legislation related to kids marketing. We’re making sure we’re careful and conscious of what we do.
Will technological advances and interactivity play a big role in the kids arena?
From a content perspective, interactivity such as 3D and voting and polling will become increasingly popular. We already have in place perfect platforms for interactivity with our game shows. We are the kids and family network so we will be cautious and socially responsible in what we do. As technological advances happen, we will be there.
The Hub’s 2011 upfront presentation is taking place [this week], on March 24: what will be the key takeaways and what are your expectations for this market?
We’re so excited about our 4Q lineup. We’ve got such a strong slate of original programming coming to the network, and we’re really looking forward to the 24th to be able to convey that to the advertising community. We’ll continue to communicate the powerful co-viewing story and strong ratings growth, as well as working with great advertisers on cross-promotional opportunities and sponsorships. I think it’s going to be a very strong marketplace, and we’re really excited about the opportunities – being able to work with clients and build programs and promotions that help them drive their business.
Can you give us an example of a successful brand integration you’ve done?
We’ve done great things with movie companies and retailers. For Toys R Us, The Hub created a 30-second custom spot to encourage parents and kids to go online for a chance to win the “Ultimate Wish List” for the holiday. The campaign aired on The Hub and Hubworld.com and was supported by Toys R Us in their holiday circular, social networking outlets and email blasts.
Where do you see the kids market moving / evolving down the road?
It’s all about the content. Kids will always love cartoons, so we’ll continue to see the development of new animated shows. We’ll continue to build out content on multiple platforms so we can reach kids anywhere and everywhere.
(Nancy Nalven is a media sales/B2B marketing communications professional with stints at Time Warner Cable, Court TV and boutique agency Fred/Alan. She currently freelances and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org).