The Hub, Hasbro and Shezow

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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 Network

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.

Hasbro

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.

Shezow

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:

Via: The Hub
Via: The Hub

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.

Analysing Animation With My Little Pony

YouTube user gbaudette has been posting analysis of scenes from, er, My Little Pony. While some may deride the show and its concept, the fact remains that there are more than a few industry veterans either behind or formerly behind it, so it does make sense to look at it from a technique perspective.

Thus far, gbaudette has posted videos on walk cycles, camera moves and the one below, a complex throw shot.

The nice thing about these videos is that they break things down into their elements, and prove that complexity is not necessarily all that it appears.

The series is relatively new, but has racked up over 50,000 views in just two weeks and is well worth checking out if you’re a budding animator.

A Look At The Hub

Rounding out this week’s look at the main US kids channels is newcomer, The Hub, which if it feels I’ve already covered it, you aren’t far wrong. I recently wrote a post on the channel’s biggest hit, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

The Hub is basicially a reincarnation of Discovery Kids and is a joint venture between Discovery Communications and toy maker, Hasbro. Interestingly enough, no content was carried over, so The Hub really is having to prove itself in the tough world of kids programming.

Surprisingly enough, it seems to have done quite well in the year and a bit it’s been around. Good quality content including MLP, Strawberry Shortcake and Transformers have helped there. Yup, they’re all toyetic, but are also much, much better than their former 1980s incarnations.

The only handicap is that Discovery Kids was carried on relatively few cable and satellite systems, and not at all on  basic packages. The house I’m staying at has Time Warner Cable and it places the Hub waaaaay up in the 130s along with Disney XD and the other Nick channels. Having said that, word of the shows has gotten around and the channel has more than made its goals for the first year.

The Hub does seem to skew more towards girls and is the only channel out of all of them that makes this noticeable. In that respect, it can be seen as a bit of a balance to the boy-scentric channels like Disney XD. All a good thing in my opinion.

Admittedly enough, its surprising that someone would launch a new channel now, just as internet viewing is starting to really kick off. The Hub required a masive investment and while it will surely pay off for Discovery/Hasbro, one can’t help but wonder if it’s the last of a dying breed.

We’re unlikely to see a brand new kids channel launch again, and it remains to be seen whether or not kids are capable of utilising the internet for viewing. They seem to be able to work iPads fairly well, so perhaps the next big breakthrough will be a child-friendly interface for watching shows.

Overall, the Hub is OK. Yeah, the shows are good, and I’m dead happy for the likes of Lauren Faust and the gang of awesome artists she’s kept employed as a result. The only faults I could find is the proximity of the shows to established toys (although that it probably a given, seeing as who’s funding it all) and the fact that as a channel, it remains to be seen if it can follow up it’s initial hits with others.

This Post Contains A Serious And Important Discussion About Bronies

Via: Total Media Bridge

It’s true, this post does contain a serious and important discussion about bronies. Although they are sometimes vilified by folks, they nonetheless represent a very special kind of fan that a lot of animated TV shows are sadly lacking.

Let’s be honest, there have always been fans who reside outside a show’s intended audience. This is nothing new and should come as no surprise to anyone, fan of animation or not. What is surprising about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is that the show’s producers have not shied away from acknowledging the existence of bronies.

Why would they do this? Why would the choose to break with unofficial tradition, which states that you shouldn’t engage with anyone outside the target demographic lest you alienate the intended audience? The answer is straightforward and simple, such fans are what shows like MLP need in order to grow.

Yeah, you could say that it’s really the little girls that are lapping up the toys, but at the end of the day, that is small potatoes to what fans with real disposable income can do. Now you could say, and I do agree, that such fans are not nearly as common nor as numerous than the targeted one, however, they do tend to:

  • buy more merchandise

  • buy more expensive merchandise

  • tune in regularly

  • participate in online/offline discussion.

All of these things are oxygen for a show like MLP for a number of reasons:

  1. It is broadcast on The Hub, a brand new network with no real audience to being with (it was a replacement for Discovery Kids).

  2. MLP as a TV show was as dated as ever and might as well have been a new show as far as its target audience were concerned

  3. Even though it had the might of Hasbro behind it, The Hub still needed viewers and consumers to watch its shows and buy its merchandise. Marketing and ads will only get you so far.

Arguably the greatest boon to the entire show was the now famous (infamous) post by Amid Amidi on Cartoon Brew. That brought the show a lot of mainstream media attention and focus. Not only did this bring this formerly obscure group of fans into the public consciousness, it also brought MLP and The Hub a lot of free publicity and attention that it never would have received otherwise.

All of this was undoubtedly beneficial to the show and network, however, it is outside of the show that is the most interesting; even though Bronies were tuning and and buying merchandise, they were also forming their own extensive ecosystem both on and off the internet.

Numerous (and I do mean numerous) fan sites have popped up. Yes, they are all the usual kinds you expect to see from a show, but they were all that and much more. They cater exclusively to fans, they help newbies get acquainted with the show, they run competitions, they have downloadable content, they post fan-fiction, they link to merchandise (both official and unofficial), they actively discuss whole aspects of the shows universe, they organise real-life meetups and conventions and yes, they run personality quizzes (that actively embrace new fans):

similar to Applejack.”]

And what is the one truly, unique, magical, fantastic thing about all of this?

The Hub embraced it! All of it!

They didn’t stand there and say: “Hey, there’s a whole bunch of 30-something year old guys watching our show. They’re going to give it a bad name, or worse, make it seem like its for “old people” or something.” No. Instead they said: “Hey, we’ve managed to gain a whole bunch of fans they we never thought we would have. We can’t openly cater to them for fear of skewing the perception of the show, but let’s be nice to them anyway because we’re gaining a benefit!”

Via: Daily Billboard

Via: Daily Billboard

That’s right, while the network was in a bit of a bind in that it was never going to actively cater to Bronies in the mainstream public’s eye, they at least had the wisdom to actively court fans in ways that would be construed as friendly. Examples include the parody ads for season 2, and the exclusive figurine sold at the San Diego Comic Con in 2011.

The very existence of the Brony fanbase has benefited those on all sides of the show. The creators know that they have created a product that is superior to what they were tasked with, the network got a lot of free publicity as well as extra viewers and consumers, and fans got a show that they really enjoy and relate to which gives them a sense of satisfaction.

Every show should have some Brony fans.

For the record, I am not a Brony.

Is It Really the End of Creator-Driven Cartoon Shows?

Via: The Terror Drome

Amid over at Cartoon Brew has written an excellent and well thought out editorial on the decline of creator-driven shows. He pretty much hits the nail of the head when he says that the glory days are over, with the current crop of shows on The Hub as well as the upcoming Nickelodeon show based on the Sketchers shoe line ushering in a new era of corporate assembly line properties. While I believe that this is certainly true, there are a few important things to consider that I suppose are too long for a regular old comment.

Firstly, The Hub is a brand new channel, competing in a market where the competition is fierce (albeit friendly enough for the live-action shows). The Cartoon Network has struggled as of late, relying instead on a desperate (?) push into live-action shows that is highly unlikely to edge them into the number two spot.

In the face of all this, The Hub is attempting to establish itself as yet another competitor. Based on the old ratings for Discovery Kids, it has a hell of a hill to climb if it is to reach any kind of meaningful market share. With that in mind, the overarching influence of its toyetic line of shows should not be overestimated.

Secondly, although the new shows in question are established, they have been somewhat irrelevant for at least the last decade or so. As a result, they way as well be starting from scratch in terms of audience.

Will kids even care what these shows provide? My guess is probably not. Anyone who grew up on 80s cartoon fare seems to have a rose-tinted view of them nowadays, but when you actually sit down and watch the likes of the Snorks, He-Man, etc, etc. and compare them to what we have now, they can’t hold a candle to the likes of SpongeBob Squarepants.

Which brings me to another point. The yellow sponge has been so successful for two reasons: the show is creator-driven and Nickelodeon was very careful and clever in how they marketed the show (including cashing in with a theatrical film at the peak of popularity). These two things acted as a kind of synergy and together have ensured that the show has stayed in the minds of the public for over a decade. Nickelodeon is surely aware of this and their continued production of creator-driven shows (such as T.U.F.F. Puppy and Fanbuy & ChumChum) should serve as a reminder that such shows are still being made.

I do not see all of this as an end of the creator-driven era however. Talented animators will continue to emerge from schools and obscurity. Creator-driven content wil continue to be made either for TV or otherwise. Amid is right in pointing out that there will continue to be fragmentation of the viewership as a result of the internet. This does not, however, preclude that people will stop wanting to watch animated TV shows.

Someone will come along and figure out how to make money doing it. I can understand the natural anxiety about the disappearance of traditionally animated shows in favour of flash, but I think that is being overly pessimistic. Hollywood didn’t disappear as a result of television (although it took them a heck of a long time to figure out why people actually go to the cinema) and television is unlikely to disappear as a result of the internet, at least in the short term.

Amid’s article is refreshingly honest in its sincerity and the comments on the post are surprisingly full of hope for the future. Far from the end, I believe we are entering a new and exciting chapter in the story of short-form animated entertainment. The beginning way be tough, but we will all warm to they story once we’ve all settled into it.

Thoughts on The Hub

There has been much talk and debate in recent times about the upcoming launch of the newest TV channel aimed at kids, that’s right, The Hub. Co-owned by Hasbro and Discovery Networks. Anyone over the age of 20 will immediately recognize there is more than one show of that classic 80s vintage, the toy line.

What has proven to be the most surprising developments of the channels launch has been the heated debate about the nature of the shows, namely that fact that the three in question: G. I. Joe, My Little Pony and Pound Puppies are all based on the existing Hasbro toy lines of the same name. This parallels a separate show based on the popular Sketchers line of shoes, which is currently being investigated by the FCC after a complaint by a campaign group.

The new network seems to have escaped this group’s attention for the moment although I suspect that it is because: a) it hasn’t launched yet and b) there were previous cartoon incarnations that have caused them to fly under the radar for the moment.

I have somewhat average hopes for the network, much will depend on the quality of the content. In times gone past you simply knocked a show together based on the toys and Bob’s your uncle. DIC became masters of the art before getting swallowed up by Cookie Jar. In this day and age, The Hub may find this audience a tougher nut to crack than in the past.

The reason, for one, is the quality of shows on other networks. The rampaging juggernaut that is SpongeBob Squarepants has single-handedly ruled that cartoon merchandising empire for more than a decade. Despite their storied past, any of the Hub’s shows are unlikely to overthrow the king.

As noted on Cartoon Brew, the network that may have to watch its back is Cartoon Network. While it is true that they are (somewhat) engaged in the true model of using creator-driven content, they also suffer from a severely deficient marketing strategy that has so-far yielded next to nothing for the vast majority of their shows. The sole exemption being Ben 10, which has been rather successful at hawking a line of toys and ancillary merchandise.

The network doesn’t launch for another bit, but I think I can safely say that with Lauren Faust in the driving seat, My Little Pony may well be making a big-time comeback.