Network Branding, Convergence, and Hasbro/Discovery’s New Kids Channel
Last April, toy maker Hasbro and Discovery Communications announced they were partnering together to form a new cable network for kids. Set to replace the Discovery Kids channel, this new joint venture would bring consumer-driven content from Hasbro’s well-known brands, including G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Transformers, and Tonka, (back) to television, while also extending a merchandising arm to existing Discovery Kids media properties like Adventure Camp and Flight 29 Down.
The introduction of a new network to the 14-and-under cable market is certainly a big development, but what catches my attention most about the news is the way that Hasbro and Discovery are choosing to brand the new channel. Questions of branding for networks/channels (terms I’m using interchangeably here) seem even more complex in our current media climate, where the proliferation of channels seems to necessitate cohesive, strong brands, but the unmooring of television texts from the actual channel into their own contained identities (DVD box sets, DVR items, online downloads) can undermine or make unnecessary those same network/channel brands. Nevertheless, brands are still important – TNT knows drama, USA loves characters, and NBC wants to be more colorful. Brands are especially important in the kids cable game, where you have to please both children and parents – Disney’s legacy mantra of fun and childhood magic appeals to kids and keeps parents’ trust, while Nickelodeon espouses education for the adults and autonomy for the young (kids rule!).
Hasbro and Discovery’s new joint venture, though, is trying to do that and more. The press release last month revealed the new channel’s name and logo – The Hub. Talk about aiming for convergence.
The rhetoric in the release talks mostly about The Hub as a convergence of two other brands as opposed to a variety of media platforms (the spiral logo “symbolizes a catalyst of action and imagination,” the result of bringing together Hasbro’s core tenet of play and Discovery Kids’ core tenet of curiosity, so says the presser), but the new brand clearly lends itself to notions of changing media experiences. It at once recognizes the mobility of both television texts and viewers, while offering a shared location for both. In this way, ‘The Hub’ has the potential to be quite successful, both as a network and a brand.
But with a name like ‘The Hub,’ I can’t help but think back to the mid-late 1990s, when we all thought hubs/portals were the way we’d conceive of space the internet, and what a failure it turned out to be for all those companies not named Google or Yahoo!. (I’m looking at you, Disney and Go.com.) And of course, Hasbro and Discovery aren’t the first ones to try a sense of mobility in a television brand – ABC’s “Start Here” concept has been hard at work since 2007. It’s not exactly clear just how well The Hub will make use of its franchises across platforms – its website, hubworld.com, is just a landing page for now. Even so, Hasbro and Discovery are laying a notable foundation in the brand. Could The Hub actually live up to its goal of “reimagining the future of children’s entertainment”? Who knows. But I’ll be watching (and clicking. and downloading) when the channel goes live this fall.