A Hasbro TV Channel: Bad for Kids?

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The Hub, a new children’s TV network, isn’t due to launch until Sunday, but some are already raising concerns that much of the programming constitutes nothing more than product placement.

That’s because The Hub is the product of a partnership between Discovery Communications and Hasbro (Stock Quote: HAS), the maker of popular toys such as My Little Pony, the Transformers and G.I. Joe. As the new network will feature animated shows based on these and other Hasbro toy franchises, a few advocates have questioned whether the cartoons are actually thinly disguised advertisements for the company’s toys.

“Essentially the Hub is an intensification and aggregation of the growing problem of commercials masquerading as children’s programs,” says Dr. Susan Linn, co-founder and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The organization last month filed a complaint with the FCC about the Nicktoons show Zevo-3, alleging that the animated program was intended to sell Skechers shoes to kids, and Linn says the programming lineup of The Hub carries similar concerns.

“Most programs for children are selling them things, and it makes them feel that they can’t really enjoy the show unless they have the toys,” she says. “From birth, children are immersed in a message that they’re incomplete without certain products.”

Perhaps anticipating these objections, The Hub will carry only six minutes of commercials per hour between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. – well below the maximum of 12 minutes allowed by FCC regulations. The Hub will also refrain from advertising Hasbro products during the advertising breaks for programs based on those products, in accordance with the Children’s Television Act.

For advocates like Linn, though, those restrictions make little difference when the shows themselves are filled with characters that can be found on the shelves at toy stores. And The Hub’s willingness to reduce advertising during these programs shows that Hasbro views these programs as just as effective as any commercial, insists Linn. “Hasbro is tacitly admitting that their programs will act as commercials,” she says. “And when it’s a TV program, [children] aren’t thinking that it’s an advertisement.”

Hasbro, however, has downplayed concerns that the company is out to produce 30-minute commercials for its toys. “Our goal is to build a successful, responsible television network that is an entertaining and informative destination for children and their families,” said a network spokesperson. “We believe that when people have actually seen our network they will have no concerns.”

While it remains to be seen how parents’ groups and other advocates will react once they’ve had a chance to see the network’s programming, it’s not hard to imagine that reaction will largely be muted. Children’s shows have long been linked with toy tie-ins, and even publicly-funded programs like Sesame Street have resulted in millions of dollars in toy sales. While the spectacle of a children’s network owned by a toy company may raise some eyebrows, that commercialism isn't anything new. So long as the programming is family-friendly and the product placement isn’t overly-invasive, there’s likely nothing here that children – or parents – haven’t already seen.

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