Hasbro Studios chief Stephen Davis tells Andrew McDonald that kids’ entertainment is a battle of the brands.
The kids’ TV space is an increasingly competitive market, but with the launch in 2010 of The Hub – its joint-venture network set up with Discovery Communications – toy giant Hasbro believes it is well placed to unlock the value of its vast catalogue of brands.
Stephen Davis heads Hasbro Studios, the toy maker’s Los Angeles-based TV development and production division, which owns iconic toy, game and action figure brands like Transformers, Scrabble and GI Joe. He says that part of his challenge is to reinvent and refresh well-known intellectual property (IP) for a new generation of kids.
“If you look at My Little Pony, for example, which is a very important brand for Hasbro, we’ve re-imagined it for our domestic channel and the international market. We sold Pony in over 140 territories. The show is called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and we’ve really given a new, fresh look to our Pony characters,” says Davis.
Pound Puppies is another example of a “vault brand” that Davis claims Hasbro has been able to bring back to life with a series that is now one of the top-performing shows on The Hub. Similarly, Transformers, which has already spawned three feature films and an earlier TV series, has been reinvented as Transformers Prime and Hasbro Studios is producing a younger-skewing version of the franchise, aimed at three- to five-year-olds, called Transformers Rescuebots.
As well as reviving tried-and-tested TV properties, the firm is also delving into its archive of non-character-led, games-based IP. “We’ve had some great success with Scrabble and with a number of our other game properties, taking them from the analogue environment that they were created in and migrating them to more interactive gameplay – whether that be Facebook or another online environment – or on television,” says Davis.
Though he admits that not every game will translate well to TV, Hasbro has now managed to turn a number of its games into gameshows, including Scrabble Showdown, Game of Life and Family Game Night. The latter is an hour-long show that incorporates six different Hasbro games, including Operation and Connect Four. The format has recently been adapted for the Spanish market through a deal with Turner-owned network Boing, and Davis says Hasbro is looking to sell it elsewhere.
“One of the real keys that we’ve found over the years is that games obviously have to be fun to watch, but you have to be compelled as you’re watching the game at home to also play along. Whether that’s shouting out the answers to the contestants on television or whether you’re playing along at home with the people you’re watching it with.”
By exploiting its IP on TV and across new platforms, Hasbro is working hard to up the value of its brands – a strategy Davis says is paying off when it comes to retail revenues. By reworking brands like Transformers, he adds that Hasbro is also creating opportunities to make new toys and games around its television output. However, pursuing a programming strategy that is so heavily tied into Hasbro’s broader toy business does not come without risks.
“Kids are very fickle and if they think that you’re running a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week commercial in a channel, whether it’s ours or anybody else’s, they see right through that. So what they’re looking for is great, fun programming and the rest comes along with that. If you’re successful in creating, around your branded content strategy, terrific story telling, then that will translate to retail as a natural part of the overall process,” says Davis.
“We have over 1,500 brands at Hasbro to exploit and we have a branded-play strategy where television is an important component to the key drivers of our business and we saw an opportunity to have greater control over our destiny,” he adds, explaining the decision to launch a network of its own.
However, while The Hub has given Hasbro the chance to act as an outlet for its shows domestically, on an international level, Hasbro is very much focused on selling to different networks; at least for the time being. Asked if the firm would eventually roll out The Hub internationally, Davis’s response was “never say never.”