Earlier this month, Discovery Kids officially became The Hub, a new channel formed by the recent partnership between Discovery Networks and toy maker Hasbro, Inc. Boasting contemporary reinventions of franchises like My Little Pony, Pound Puppies, G.I. Joe, and Transformers along with Discovery successes like Meerkat Manor, the new channel hopes to compete with the sizeable array of kid-focused programming from Nickelodeon, Disney, and the Cartoon Network. In many ways, the new kids channel signifies larger pressures on modern cable brands to be at once coherent and heterogenous.
The Hub serves as the latest example of Discovery Networks’ recent attempt to move away from its Discovery spin-off brand model to one where each channel stands more as its own entity – Discovery Science became the Science Channel; Discovery Wings became the Military Channel; Discovery Health Channel will soon become Oprah’s OWN, and Discovery Kids is now The Hub. Discovery Communications Inc., the parent company founded in 1985, has long positioned itself as “the number one nonfiction media company,” a label that was crucial to Discovery Kids’ identity as an education-focused channel, especially from 2002 to 2006, when Discovery Kids provided Saturday morning programming for NBC in fulfillment of the broadcaster's FCC-mandated three hours of educational and informative (E/I) content.
But despite the new channel's move away from its Discovery moniker and non-fiction programming, the educational legacy of the Discovery brand remains central as a sort of legitimizing force among Hasbro's toy-based shows – shows which have historically been criticized as “nothing more than 30-minute toy commercials.” Hasbro was, in fact, among the first toy manufacturers to take advantage of Reagan-era deregulation of kids television and partner with production companies to create animated series based on toy lines, with their G.I. Joe and Transformers franchises in the mid-1980s. However, many of today’s parents grew up on those shows, adding an additional level of familiarity and in some cases nostalgic fondness to the latest iterations of Hasbro’s merchandise-driven programming.
Although after its initial announcement last year, I (rather optimistically) envisioned The Hub as a brand strategy that recognized the mobility of young viewers across various platforms and levels of engagement, now that the channel is live, it's clear that the brand's main goal is much more basic: to function as an agreeable destination for both kids and their families, and as a seamless marriage for Discovery and Hasbro. Exemplified in the network's promotional spot on the left, establishing The Hub relies heavily on the existing brand equity in Discovery, Hasbro, and their various media properties among both children and parents. A visually stunning smorgasbord of familiar logos, the brand name "hub" provides a simple, monosyllabic label for a concept that can metaphorically join education and learning with toys, cartoons, and games in the hopes of pleasing everyone in the living room. Striking the right balance in the dual parent-child appeal is key for the success of kids cable channels, a task both Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel have built their brands around. The Hub, however, also quite literally creates a contiguous identity out of several disparate parts to (re)claim both Discovery's and Hasbro's space in children's television. Accordingly, The Hub signifies the struggle to establish and maintain coherence amid the increasingly fragmented terrain of the post-network era.