Discovery Communications and Hasbro have poached Disney Channel/Disney XD executive Nikki Reed as head of programming for their joint venture, rival children’s cable network The Hub, which is looking to expand into live-action programming. Reed, named SVP Programming & Development for The Hub, replaces Donna Ebbs, who served as the first programming chief for The Hub since its October 2010 launch. Ebbs is now transitioning to a consultant and executive producer role. “Our goal is to utilize my relationships with writers, producers and talent to grow The Hub’s existing slate of programming and enhance it with more live-action series,” said Reed, who reports to The Hub president and CEO Margaret Loesch. Hub’s current lineup is dominated by animated shows, while Reed’s background is in primarily live-action programing. For the past three years, she was VP Original Series, overseeing live-action development for Disney Channel and Disney XD where she developed Jessie, Austin And Ally, Dog With A Blog, Lab Rats, and Crash & Bernstein. Read More »
Shares are down about 5.5% in pre-market trading after the company behind Transformers and cable’s The Hub kids’ channel reported soft results for the last three months of 2011. Hasbro generated net earnings of $139.1M, down 6.3% vs the period last year, on revenues of $1.33B, up about 4%. Analysts expected revenues to come in slightly higher, at $1.34B. Earnings, at $1.06 a share, were a penny ahead of forecasts. Hasbro’s entertainment and licensing unit more than held its own: Its operating profit grew 44% to $21.5M on revenues of $64.1M, up 20%. The company says the operation thrived from sales of TV shows overseas, as well as from movie and merchandise revenues from Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. But that didn’t seem to help the games and puzzles category where revenues fell 11% to $370.6M. “Despite the challenges we encountered in 2011, we grew our business, effectively managed our capital structure and maintained a healthy balance sheet,” CEO Brian Goldner says.
Discovery CFO Bradley Singer couldn’t have been surprised to be asked at Citigroup’s Global Media, Entertainment and Telecommunications Conference about what’s up with OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Bankers and investors are still waiting to see significant progress at Discovery’s struggling, high-profile joint venture with the talk show host and entrepreneur. But his answer was also familiar: Wait. Now that Oprah’s running the operation “we feel real good about the direction the network is headed in. It’s just building block after building block.” The channel’s financial prospects, he added, depend on how well it can build its viewing audience.
Most of the other questions were a lot easier considering that Discovery has one of the highest profit margins in cable programming. Singer says the ad market continues to improve. “We have not been impacted yet by anything you might read” about weakness in the overall economy. Meanwhile channels that have taken off over the last year, led by ID: Investigation Discovery, have “that much room to grow in terms of advertising.” He’s also optimistic about The Hub, the joint venture with Hasbro. “Long term, that could be Read More »
Looks like a lot of kids — OK, their parents — are snapping up the toys and games represented on shows such as Transformers Prime, Clue, and My Little Pony that they see on The Hub. Hasbro COO David D. R. Hargreaves says these sales are soaring even though initial ratings following the channel’s October 2010 launch were at “the lower end of our expectations.” His comments were part of Hasbro’s day-long presentation to investors — including several who were skeptical about its $300M investment in April 2009 for 50% of Discovery Kids. Hargreaves says that last month’s ratings among kids between 2 and 11 were the best yet for The Hub, although he warned that the numbers “probably won’t grow each week, month, or quarter.” Cable and satellite company efforts to promote the channel “spike viewership which may fall back in the following period.” Still, the exec says Hasbro’s on track with its five-year business plan. ”If The Hub network can be half the size of Cartoon Network” in five years then “that would be a success,” he says. Hasbro’s investment enabled the company to turn Hasbro Studios into a major TV production operation. It accounts for 50% of the Hub’s programming from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM, as well as sales in 142 countries. Hasbro says it only expects to have to spend about $80M a year on channel-related expenses, lower than the $100M it anticipated. The company’s agreement with Discovery requires it to spend … Read More »
Peter Liguori Mulling Exit From Discovery
This is now happening — I have learned that Discovery Communications COO Peter Liguori will be leaving the company after two years. The veteran TV executive is expected to stick around until the end of the year. (He started at Discovery in January 2010.) He will not be replaced. Liguori, who previously ran Fox and FX, is the latest top Discovery Communications executive to exit as the company’s president and CEO David Zaslav now faces three upcoming major departures in his upper ranks; Discovery Channel president Clark Bunting and Discovery Communications CFO Bradley Singer both announced earlier this year that they will leave at the beginning of 2012. Bunting’s announcement came a couple of months after he was made to report to TLC General Manager Eileen O’Neill in an executive restructuring. Despite beating earnings expectations in the just-reported third quarter, Discovery Communications continues to struggle with its joint ventures, especially OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, which sucked up another $12 million investment in 3Q. Liguori was hands-on involved in the January launch of OWN and in May he was named interim CEO of the fledgling cable network following the departure of Christina Norman. Two months later, Winfrey took over the CEO position, and Liguori’s involvement decreased to a point of him having no day-to-day role at the channel. In addition to representing Discovery Communications in its three joint ventures — OWN; The Hub, which also has had a hard time; and 3Net — Liguori’s duties as COO included oversight of Marketing, Discovery Studios, Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs, Business Affairs, and Media Technology, Production and Operations.
UPDATE 6:15AM: Discovery just put out a release announcing Liguori’s departure:
Silver Spring, Md. – Discovery Communications today announced that Chief Operating Officer Peter Liguori has decided to depart the company at the end of the year. Liguori was responsible for launching numerous creative and brand marketing initiatives around the world, including overseeing the successful launches of Discovery’s joint ventures in The Hub, OWN, and 3net.
President and CEO David Zaslav said, “Pete’s leadership, enthusiasm and creative vision have brought a fresh and important perspective to Discovery.
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UPDATE, 9:40 AM: Hasbro’s in “active discussions” with Paramount, Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg about a fourth Transformers, CEO Brian Goldner told analysts in a conference call today. ”Hopefully I’ll have more news for you next quarter,” he said. The most recent edition, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, will generate revenues for Hasbro between the $482M from the first film in the series in 2007 and $592M from the previous one in 2009. In other movie news, the company is reworking the budget for a film based on its Ouija game in the hope of reviving the project that Universal recently dropped. Battleship is on course to be released worldwide in April and in May in the U.S., with G.I. Joe: 2 following in June. Hasbro is working with J.J. Abrams on Micronaughts. Goldner says Hasbro is “actively developing” scripts for films based on Monopoly, Risk, and Clue as well as “projects yet to be named.” Goldner says, though, that Hasbro won’t produce its own films.
The CEO adds that cable channel The Hub is “making great progress” and is “ahead of plan” overseas where its programming runs in 142 countries. The channel is in 61M homes domestically; talks to increase distribution on cable are “going quite well,” although Goldner wouldn’t be specific. Ratings are up. On the advertising side, the channel has 120 more sponsors than it did last year when it was still Discovery Kids.
Goldner’s presentation impressed investors: Hasbro shares are up about 1% in midday trading. They opened down after the company reported 3Q earnings below expectations. Read More »
The joint-venture channels — OWN with Oprah Winfrey, and The Hub with Hasbro — aren’t included. What’s more, “there is not any specific content that Netflix is entitled to,” Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav told investors this morning at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia Conference. He wouldn’t talk about the economics of the deal but says that they will “become apparent” the next time the company reports its quarterly earnings. He adds that while “we don’t know what’s going to happen with Netflix” — which is grappling with consumer fury after it raised prices 60% for those who want to stream video and rent DVDs –”right now we think that will not create an issue for us.” Here’s the release about Discovery’s new Netflix agreement:
Los Gatos, Calif. and Silver Spring, Md. — Netflix, Inc. and Discovery Communications today announced a two-year non-exclusive licensing agreement that allows Netflix members to instantly watch prior-season series and specials, including an expanded selection of additional seasons of popular series from Discovery, TLC and Animal Planet, as well as Investigation Discovery, Science and Military Channel. Among the highlights are Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild, TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, and Animal Planet’s River Monsters and other titles from Discovery’s rich program library.
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Discovery Communications seems to be preparing the Street for bad news about The HUB — the kids channel it co-owns with Hasbro. In a $500 million debt filing at the SEC this morning, Discovery says that last month the companies amended their partnership agreement to create an undescribed “trigger event” that could lead to a writedown indicating the property is worth less than they had thought. The filing adds that “The HUB’s management is in the process of conducting a fair value analysis to support goodwill impairment testing,” with the results expected in 3Q. The companies also agreed to an unspecified change in the license fees that The HUB pays for its cartoons. The channel, which targets ages 6-12, has struggled to grow since October when Discovery and Hasbro re-branded Discovery Kids. It has attracted an average total day audience of 23,000 so far in the second quarter, down from 24,000 in the first quarter.
A Discovery spokesperson says that the “goodwill review is simply a pro-forma accounting exercise and (the company) feels very positve and encouraged by The Hub’s early days’ performance and ability to grow its audience in the future.”
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The Hub, Hasbro’s joint-venture kids network with Discovery Communications that launched in October, didn’t do much for the toymaker’s first-quarter earnings announced today. Although Q1 is usually a slow time for toys as it comes after the holidays, the company missed Wall Street expectations as it reported its net income fell 71%, from $58.9 million a year ago to $17.2 million. Costs related to launching The Hub were cited as part of the dragging-down. The bright side is that Hasbro has a slew of toys tied to summer tentpole movies like Marvel properties Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which are expected to goose revenue for the full year.
The Hub, the kids-centered cable channel that replaced Discovery Kids in October, will unveil nine new series at its upfront presentation today, including Secret Millionaire’s Club, a series of animated specials featuring Warren Buffett as a secret adviser to a group of kids who learn about business. Secret Millionaire’s Club, from Andy Heyward’s A Square, runs as a Web series on AOL Kids. Also among Hub’s new series is Majors & Minors, a reality singing competition from songwriter Evan Bogart and producers Tim Bogart and Gary Randall, featuring 16 young performers vying for a recording deal with RCA/Jive. Also newly announced by The Hub, a joint venture of Discovery Communications and Hasbro, is The Aquabats Super Show, featuring the rock band, and a slew of series based on Hasbro toy brands, including Blythe Loves The Littlest Pet Shop, Clue, The Game of Life, Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, Scrabble Showdown and Transformers offshoot Rescue Bots.
Additionally, The Hub, which averages 107,000 viewers in primetime, has acquired game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, which aired on Fox, and has renewed 10 series: The Adventures of Chuck & Friends, Animal Mechanicals, … Read More »