The LA Times ran an article on My 28th by Joe Flint that’s pretty much all about The Hub; well The Hub and parent company Hasbro….and the former’s latest show thrown in for good measure. We’ll get to Shezow in a minute, but what the article brought up in a more important way, was the nature of the relationship between the network and Hasbro. Of all the kids’ networks, only the Hub is owned by a parent that also produces toys, and that makes things extra tricky.
The Hub is a youngster and has faced an uphill battle since it launched:
Launched in October 2010, the Hub has barely registered a blip in the highly competitive kids’ TV marketplace. It has a few minor successes including “My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic” and “Transformers,” but overall its ratings are tiny. Among kids 2 to 11, the Hub’s primary target, it averages 56,000 viewers a day, according to Nielsen. Disney and Nickelodeon each average 934,000 kids in that group.
Finding a runaway success in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, the network has worked to expand it’s offerings of original content and Shezow is simply the latest in that effort.
So far so good, right? I mean, Rome wasn’t built in a day and the fact that the Hub has managed to get going with a small but fairly devoted following suggests that it’s continued growth is secured. However, there is the small matter of the owner of the entire operations and how it interacts with the network and studio.
The giant that is Hasbro was, for a long time, simply a manufacturer of toys, both licensed and original. The Hub is their first real foray into entertainment and so far, has spent $450 million between acquisition and investment in the Hub and its associated production facility, Hasbro Studios. The former has yet to turn a profit, but losses are narrowing.
Given this level of investment, Hasbro has exerted higher than normal levels of control over the Hub. This is where things get really intriguing for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that you have an established company moving into an industry that they are sort of familiar with but have never got their hands really dirty. They’ve invested a lot of money and some people have their necks on the line.
One would naturally expect that some experienced hands would be hired and given the freedom to do what they do best: develop great content. Well, that’s sort of been the case.
Lauren Faust left My Little Pony for conflicting reasons depending on who you ask, but interference from Hasbro executives appears quite commonly in rumours. That’s not all though. The LA Times article notes that Hasbro controlled the Hub’s own website before relenting.
Both of these play into the larger role that Hasbro seems to have: they want a top-down approach to content.
Back in the 1980s, there was a marvelous/terrible regime whereby animated shows were driven by toys. That is, existing toy lines were shoehorned into an animated half hour and sold to kids as a way to boost toy sales. Fair enough. But then Nickelodeon discovered that if you let animators do their thing, they could completely obliterate the competition with original content! SpongeBob Squarepants is the ultimate and best example of this: a creator-driven show that has sold billions of dollars worth of merchandise. In other words: the show drove toy sales, not the other way around.
Unfortunately, Hasbro doesn’t see things this way, and instead of using the bottom-up approach to content and merchandise, has decided to go in the opposite direction by dictating which content the Hub is permitted to make and broadcast, all in the name of synergy:
Several former Hub and Hasbro executives, who declined to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the matter, charge that shows that performed well for the Hub but weren’t in line with Hasbro’s toy sales objectives have been canceled or had their episode orders reduced.
Those shows include the cartoon “G.I. Joe Renegades” and “Family Game Night,” a program in which kids and parents play life-sized versions of Hasbro games. The former was canceled because Hasbro did not have a doll that went with the show on the shelves of stores, these people said. The latter had its episode order cut when board games became less of a Hasbro priority.
Such claims led to the inevitable denials:
Hasbro President and Chief Executive Brian Goldner denied those assertions, saying programming decisions are “up to Margaret and the team.” Loesch said those moves were made for “business and budget considerations” and not because of pressure from Hasbro.
“They do not tell us how to run the business,” Loesch said. “They of course share with me which of the properties they think would tie in best with their strategy, which is a win-win for us.”
All I can say is, yeah right. CoughEquestriaGirlscough
When companies pour nearly half a billion dollars into something, it is impossible for them not to meddle on some level. Besides, if they can, well, bump their quarterly numbers up by 0.005% if they tell the network to do this or that, guess what? They will do it!
We haven’t even discussed how Hasbro bans ads for rival toy companies’ products from the Hub, but you should be able to figure that one out for yourself. If it isn’t evidence of overzealous control, I don’t know what is. At least Disney sidesteps the issue completely by not running any ads at all.
All this makes it all the more interesting as to how Shezow came to get picked up.
This Australian/Canadian show has already been broadcast in both countries with success and will come to the Hub on June 1st, 2013. It revolves around a 12 year old boy, Guy, who basically turns into a superhero. So far so normal, right? Well the twist is that turning him into a superhero also
turns him into a girl makes him feminine in appearance:
This twist is something new for an animated kids show and while it raises some very good points about genderisation, kids and socially-mandated gender norms (which is definitely a topic for another post), it also doesn’t appear to fit in with Hasbro’s ‘plan’ at all.
So, will it survive? That’s the simplest question, but furthermore, why doesn’t Hasbro adapt the merchandise to the content instead of the other way around? Is it because it retains the entrenched ways of creating merchandise that have been part and parcel of toys since the dawn of television? Or is it because the company really believes that it can do better than the other networks that have all embraced creator-driven shows?
We’ll have to wait and see.