The Washington Post

Kids’ channel, struggling to find viewers, looks to ‘SheZow’ to help boost ratings

A scene from the Hub’s “SheZow.” (Hub Network)

Television’s latest animated superhero sports a purple skirt and cape, pink gloves and white go-go boots.

She is also a he.

Meet SheZow, the star of a new cartoon on the Hub, a kids’ cable channel co-owned by Silver Spring-based cable programming giant Discovery Communications and toy manufacturer Hasbro.

In “SheZow,” a 12-year-old boy named Guy uses a magic ring to transform himself into a legendary crime fighter. When evil lurks, Guy says, “You go, girl!” and becomes SheZow.

“When I first heard about the show, my reaction was ‘Are you out of your minds?’ ” said Margaret Loesch, chief executive of the Hub. “Then I looked at it and I thought, ‘This is just funny.’ ”

The Hub is hoping some of SheZow’s magic powers rub off on it so it can better battle the giants of children’s television: Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network.

Launched in October 2010, the Hub has barely registered a blip in the highly competitive kids’ TV marketplace. It has a few minor successes including “My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic” and “Transformers,” but overall its ratings are tiny. Among kids 2 to 11, the Hub’s primary target, it averages 56,000 viewers a day, according to Nielsen. Disney and Nickelodeon each average 934,000 kids in that group.

“It is harder than I ever envisioned to rise above all the competition,” Loesch said. “Kids have access to so much content from so many sources.”

Another problem for all networks targeting kids is a decline in spending by advertisers. According to Nielsen, advertisers spent just under $900 million in 2012 on kids’ TV, a drop of almost 25 percent from 2010.

To make up for those dollars, the Hub has started running family fare and movies such as “Ice Age” at night, which has broadened its audience and brought advertising aimed at families, such as vacation spots and cars.

But the Hub also faces its own unique advertising challenge. The Hasbro co-ownership keeps some big toy advertisers, including giants Mattel and Lego, from buying commercials on the network.

Rival toy companies aren’t the only ones wary of the Hub because of Hasbro. Several former Hub and Hasbro executives, who declined to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the matter, charge that shows that performed well for the Hub but weren’t in line with Hasbro’s toy sales objectives have been canceled or had their episode orders reduced.

Those shows include the cartoon “G.I. Joe Renegades” and “Family Game Night,” a program in which kids and parents play life-sized versions of Hasbro games. The former was canceled because Hasbro did not have a doll that went with the show on store shelves, these people said. The latter had its episode order cut when board games became less of a Hasbro priority.

Hasbro President and chief executive Brian Goldner denied those assertions, saying programming decisions are “up to Margaret and the team.” Loesch said those moves were made for “business and budget considerations” and not because of pressure from Hasbro.

“They do not tell us how to run the business,” Loesch said. “They of course share with me which of the properties they think would tie in best with their strategy, which is a win-win for us.”

— Los Angeles Times



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