Under her cardigan, Margaret Loesch is wearing a black T-shirt with a cartoon pony on it. The pony, eyes closed, smile wide, appears to be cheering in a moment of utter bliss.
This reflects how Loesch—in Manhattan to prepare for upfront season—feels about producing reboots of Gen X-targeted shows like My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic and the upcoming Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot in her role as president and CEO of The Hub, Hasbro’s joint venture with Discovery. “We know that if there’s a strong parental affection, that affection will serve us,” Loesch said. “The key for us is not to be too sappy about that. Frankly, we’re not after parental approval; we’re after parental introduction.”
That strategy has worked to some degree, but there are still challenges. Co-viewing is more than five times what it was at Discovery Kids (the network Discovery rebranded to make The Hub). At the same time, total day viewership continues to grow, but is still under 100,000 for February despite high-profile (and expensive) branded content.
Unlike fellow Discovery joint venture OWN, however, the network’s slope is mostly steady. Year-over-year growth in total day viewership among the network’s target 2 to 11 demographic is up 29 percent for the year to date. “We can be pretty aggressive now because we’re on a solid trajectory,” Loesch said.
There’s one other problem facing the project, but it’s one everybody saw coming. It’s difficult to convince toy companies to give money to a competitor, and toys are always going to be one of the biggest advertising categories if a network is running content for kids. For example, Mattel doesn’t advertise on the network, and neither, so far, does Lego—which might have something to do with Hasbro’s Lego-equivalent toy line, Kre-O.
Loesch finds this frustrating. “People ask me, ‘Don’t you give [Hasbro] preferential treatment?’ and I say, ‘Absolutely not. If I did, I’d never sell another ad.’” Loesch's track record should by rights combat any perceptions of favoritism—one reason she thinks the new Transformers cartoon will appeal to parents is that she remembers how much they liked the property as kids in 1984 (she produced that one, too).
Ratings, as ever, are the great convincer in the TV ad sales biz, and The Hub has the market’s attention with My Little Pony and Transformers Prime, both of which have acquired adult fan bases. Bronies (fervent adult Pony fans) have received plenty of press coverage, and the Transformers fan base will continue to follow the franchise wherever it goes.
Increasingly, a steady release of new content has become key—even for kids. “Whenever we put new episodes on, we pop numbers,” Loesch said. “You used to be able to do more with less, but now it’s important to put new shows up quickly.”