If They Build It, Will They Come?

Posted: May 18, 2010 by chdr in Animation, Animation News, chdr, Uncategorized

In 1996, Discovery Communications, the owners of basic cable networks The Discovery Channel and TLC, launched four channels. The first, Animal Planet, was a rousing success. The second, The Science Channel, continues to this day with a decent fanbase. The third channel was called CBS Eye on People, but later shifted guises to Discovery People, Discovery Civilization, and Discovery Times, until its current incarnation, Investigation Discovery. The fourth network was Discovery Kids. Fourth is a very apt description for Discovery Kids. Despite trying their best with several original series and even a Saturday morning block on NBC (also a fourth network), the channel has always remained fourth in the third-tier children’s programming market behind Nicktoons Network and Toon Disney. Even Cartoon Network’s much-forgotten sister network Boomerang has the occasional schedule change or show addition. Eventually, Discovery Kids stopped trying altogether and just ran their current library on auto-pilot for several years.

Times change. The third-tier market, once a garbage dump used by basic cable networks for repeats and shows they didn’t want, has recently blossomed in a new renaissance. The once-aging Toon Disney has been reborn into the successful Disney XD last year. Nicktoons is steadily building an impressive slate of programming, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dragon Ball Z, and recently Power Rangers. Along with toy company Hasbro, Discovery is giving the kids market another try with the upcoming relaunch of Discovery Kids, the Hub, slated to premiere October 10th of this year. The upcoming slate of shows look diverse and promising, but will all the effort in the world prevent the Hub from becoming an encore of Discovery Kids?

Among the various projects announced for the Hub, there are:

  • New series based on Hasbro properties such as G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Transformers, and more
  • Various new series from Canada, Europe, Japan, and the Middle East
  • Popular off-network shows like Fraggle Rock and Meerkat Manor
  • Specialized programming blocks for all ages, from toddlers to families
  • Reruns of older series and Discovery Kids programming

The full press release can be seen here.

I applaud what Discovery and Hasbro are doing. There is some great talent behind the Hub, such as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends alum Lauren Faust on the new My Little Pony series. They’re also trying provide a great variety of programming for all audiences, a strategy that their competition has since turned their back on. I know that by October, I’ll definitely give the Hub a shot. But the real problem for the Hub is this: will everyone else give them a shot too?

Regardless of all the promising content they bring to the network, the biggest challenge for the Hub is to escape the shadow of Discovery Kids. For years, DK has been considered the “plain-bread” children’s network. Without any sort of cross-demographic appeal or new programming, Discovery Kids became forgotten to most and a laughing-stock to the remainder. The Hub has to make itself known as the anti-DK to gain the viewers’ respect. Let the viewers know that this is not what Discovery Kids was. Discovery Kids was poorly managed. Discovery Kids had a small library of programming. Discovery Kids never tried. Discovery Kids wasn’t ambitious.

The Hub is ambitious. It’ll be a darn shame if all this effort goes to waste, though. Luckily, the executives behind the Hub know this. They’re not busting out of the gate and taking on the competition, like what Disney did recently with their relaunch of Toon Disney. They’re spending their time building a network to be proud about. They’re taking the realistic view on this subject and taking things slow, instead of shortsightedly looking for tons of viewers initially and then giving up at the first sight of a slowdown, like most networks.

What is your opinion on the Hub? Let us know in the comments section below.

  1. Jeff Harris says:

    I’m rooting for The Hub, and I’m glad to see you’re doing likewise. They have great management behind them, strong brands leading the way, and talented people contributing to both. Nobody said rebuilding a channel was going to be easy, especially one that already has this milquetoast reputation to the point of invisibility to the kids and “our generation” (the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings that flocked to the network largely out of loyalty to the brands that will be so prominent on The Hub.

    But to those individuals who are knocking them before they even launch, need I remind you of the history of Nickelodeon? When it launched in 1977 as an Ohio-based network called Pinwheel, redubbed as Nickelodeon two years later when it launched a second feed in New York, and launched nationally in 1981, was, at its core, what Discovery Kids is right now, largely a vanilla network filled with educational fare for kids. Limited commercials with very low viewership. Under the leadership of Gerry Laybourne and the guidance of folks like Betty Cohen, Fred Seibert, Anne Sweeney, Linda Simensky, and countless others, they rebuilt Nickelodeon from “The Young People’s Station” to “The First Kids’ Network,” picking up familiar brands, acquiring foreign productions, and developing new shows that became emblematic of what Nickelodeon is all about.

    Where The Hub is now, Nickelodeon was in 1984, not to mention following the same pattern. I’m not saying that The Hub will become the biggest kids’ brand in the world, but as we’ve seen time and time again, history has a funny way of repeating itself.

  2. I like the way you write your articles to include background history.

    However, I’m not looking forward to the return of toy-based shows. I just think they’re a bad idea.

    • chdr says:

      I don’t think that being toy-based and good have to be mutually exclusive. For example, Transformers Animated and the 2003 version of TMNT were both made to sell toys, and both came out pretty well.

    • Jeff Harris says:

      Hasbro and Discovery has been on the record as stating that 75% of the programming on The Hub won’t be based on brands managed by Hasbro. That’s a big number, and one not to be snickered at. The thing is, yeah, you’re going to have a show like G.I. Joe: Renegades and Transformers Prime, but you’re more likely going to see shows like Deltora Quest (based on an Australian book series), The 99 (based on a Middle Eastern comic book series), Fraggle Rock, and Meerkat Manor on The Hub. They’re building a new brand out of existing brands and a stable frame.

      Will The Hub be a 24-hour Hasbro commercial? Absolutely not. It’s not going to be Discovery Kids with a Hasbro shell either. In fact, some shows currently only on DK will remain on The Hub, but will get new eyeballs likely BECAUSE of the Hasbro shows. So, you may knock the fact that Hasbro shows are coming, but realize they’re not going to dominate the entire lineup.

      And what do you mean “return” of toy-based shows? They never left.

  3. @Jeff- I mean that back in the 80s toy-based shows were the dominant shows on tv.Or so I’ve heard.
    @Chdr- Are you talking about the CGI movie? I thought that was really mediocre.

    • Jeff Harris says:

      While it’s true that the 1980s had a lot of toy-based shows, it’s not like they were the dominant shows. It probably seemed that way to a lot of observers likely because there weren’t as many outlets as it is now.

      You have Galaxy High, Kissyfur, Foofur, Mr. T, Scooby-Doo, Danger Mouse, Super Friends (the toys came in the series” final two seasons, just when the series was actually becoming more in-tune with their comic roots), Teen Wolf, CBS Storybreak, ABC Weekend Special, Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show, Duck Tales, Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers, Tranzor Z, Mysterious Cities of Gold, Noozles, Little Koala, Fantastic Max, Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, Thundarr the Barbarian, Space Stars, Gummi Bears, Comic Strip, Dennis the Menace, Belle and Sebastian, Ulysses 31, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, The adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Inspector Gadget, SuperTed, The New Archies, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, Heathcliff, The Incredible Hulk, Superman, Trollkins, Mighty Mouse, Beany and Cecil, Dink the Little Dinosaur, Little Wizards, Wildfire, The Little Prince, Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Kidd Video, Ed Grimley, Camp Candy, Karate Kid, Beetlejuice, Wolfman Rock TV, and many others that weren’t created to sell toys/games (well, the Smrufs did come along to introduce the collectibles Stateside, and the Chipmunks largely sold albums).

      It’s just the merchandise-driven shows that the decade is best remembered. It’s almost like saying the 90s and the 00s were best remembered for Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Beyblade, Bakugan, Duel Monsters, and the merchandise-heavy Dragon Ball Z. Heck, Naruto was also brought here to sell merchandise of all types. The toyetic nature of those shows stick out more because they sold things and kids loved them, right?

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