The Hub: Is New Kids' Network Too Commercial for TV?

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The Hub is here! Credit: Amy Graves, WireImage

If you're concerned about the impact television commercials have on your kids, wait until you find them watching an entire TV channel brought to you by a toy and game company.

You may not have noticed, but on Oct. 10, the Discovery Kids TV channel was replaced with a Discovery-Hasbro venture called The Hub. Launching at 10 a.m. on 10/10/10, the first offerings were imports of European cartoons, some Hasbro ads and a rerun of the movie "Garfield," The New York Times reports.

Disney and Hasbro hope The Hub will take its place alongside the top three players in children's TV -- Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and Cartoon Network, David M. Zaslav, chief executive of Discovery Communications, tells The Times.

The Hub's programming lineup includes shows based on Hasbro toys, including "Transformers Prime," "My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic," "G.I. Joe Renegades" and "Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures," according to the channel's website. There's also a new series from "Goosebumps" author R.L. Stine and a game show titled "Family Game Night," modeled after the Hasbro-branded video game, The Times reports.

Even before The Hub launched, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a watchdog organization devoted to limiting the impact of commercial culture on kids, came out strongly against Hasbro's participation in the new venture, telling The Times it's like an "infomercial."

"Even without The Hub, the over-commercialization of children's media is disgraceful. The Hub is an intensification and aggregation of using media to market to children," Susan Linn, CCFC's director and author of "The Case For Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World," tells ParentDish.

Linn praises Hasbro's real-life "Family Game Night" initiative, where families are encouraged to turn off the electronics and play board games with their kids. However, she tells ParentDish that watching kids play games on a TV game show really undermines the value of game-playing.

"Having families compete for actual big prizes (on TV) ... kind of undermines the whole purpose of games, where children get the experience of winning and losing without major consequences," Linn tells ParentDish. "If you get to watch the games, you're not really gaining the kind of interaction and learning strategy that goes on when you're actually playing a game for low stakes."

According to The Times, Hasbro paid $300 million for a 50 percent stake in The Hub, but its ties to the channel may lead to greater scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators, such as the Federal Communications Commission. FCC regulations limit the number of commercials aired during shows aimed at kids 12 and younger, and, during shows based on a toy or game, the agency bars advertisements for that toy or game, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"We certainly hope that the FCC will take a closer look, and that what The Hub does is show that the few rules we have about protecting children from over-commercialization are both inadequate and not enforced," Linn tells ParentDish.

Mark Kern, The Hub's senior vice president for communications, responded to the CCFC's allegations in an e-mail to ParentDish.

"Our goal is to build a successful, responsible network that is an entertaining and informative television destination for children and their families," Kern writes. "We can only succeed by presenting programming that is diverse and features well-told, engaging stories with compelling characters. We believe that when people have actually seen our network they will have no concerns."

On the flip side, the network's investors also will be keeping a close eye on the venture, to see if the new programming sufficiently bolsters Hasbro's toy sales.

Yet, in a market that's already crowded with kids' programming, The Hub may end up being challenged more by viewers than by regulators.

"I think there are valid questions about whether or not this programming will have the ability to be competitive with the incumbents," Anthony DiClemente, a media analyst for Barclays Capital, tells The Times, adding that Nickelodeon, Disney and the Cartoon Network are already "very well positioned" in the marketplace.

In response, Discovery's Zaslav tells The Times that if the cable industry can successfully support 30 channels in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, there's room for The Hub in the 15-and-younger demographic.

"Kids deserve a lot of diverse programming just like the rest of us," The Hub chief executive Margaret A. Loesch tells the newspaper.

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