For Hasbro, the last few years since Michael Bay’s first Transformers have been something of a slow-motion rebrand, in which the toy maker has decided to be an intellectual property company, not merely a toy company.
Unfortunately, Hasbro-the-IP-company has taken its lumps in 2012. Post-Transformers, the company looked briefly like the second coming of Marvel Comics, until embarrassments like the low domestic gross for Battleship and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which was pulled from the theaters before its summer opening after abysmal test audience results (and movie toys were already on shelves).
It’s not all bad, though, and that’s why the initial strategy fail may not matter. For one thing, there’s the successful series of Transformers video games with publishing partner Activision.
Then there’s The Hub, the fledgling cable network that Pivotal Research senior analyst Brian Wieser has flagged as one of the company’s most promising assets—and a much more consistent source of revenue than video games or movies, which rely on big opening weekends.
Free cash flow at the network has gone from an anemic $350,000 in 2011 to a projected $37 million this year, per SNL Kagan. Kagan predicts free cash flow will approach $59 million in 2013, with $64.8 million in ad sales. Hasbro executives were unavailable for comment.
Wieser said the network’s audience is growing more than Nielsen would have one think. “Fragmented viewing isn’t covered adequately on Nielsen, but Rentrak has them doubled over last year,” he said.
Wieser also downplayed the network’s problems with rival toy companies that don’t want to advertise with their competitor. “There is an appetite [among other advertisers],” he said. “Nickelodeon’s troubles have been well-documented, and food, movies and other categories are available.”
Hasbro still defiantly celebrates toys, especially the licensed stuff, which is the last reliable sector of the industry. And how. On Oct. 10, the company held its equivalent of the prom at its annual New York Comic Con party.
A huge island of a bar sat in the center of the party, with S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers toting tiny versions of the Avengers in various poses of pint-sized defiance and adorable grim determination.
Also at the party, My Little Pony was enjoying the attentions of its newest fan base: scruffy, 20-something male fans of the eponymous Hub show.