Hasbro’s Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis-Hasbro-116Since its founding in 1923, Hasbro has owned some of the most famous brands in family entertainment. Starting with Mr. Potato Head and G.I. Joe, then Monopoly, Play-Doh, My Little Pony, Transformers and many more, Hasbro has been engaging and entertaining children with all sorts of toys, games, dolls and action figures. Hasbro Studios, headed by Stephen Davis as president, is taking these beloved brands and reimagining them for today’s children. Davis, who is also the chief content officer and executive VP of Hasbro, talks about the importance of remaining relevant to media-savvy youngsters and of producing content that can be enjoyed on multiple platforms.

TV KIDS: Hasbro Studios was set up in 2009. What was its remit?
DAVIS: Hasbro has so many great stories to tell. First of all, Hasbro has the privilege of owning over 1,500 brands. We really wanted to have a platform to be able to tell those stories, and frankly, to be much more in control of our destiny as a production and distribution company. So in 2009 we started Hasbro Studios. Around the same time, we also invested in what was then Discovery Kids in the U.S., which was then rebranded The Hub, which was rebranded again to Discovery Family. We also started to really expand our relationships with our digital partners. Then about two years ago, we announced Allspark Pictures, our own film label. Again, it gives us the opportunity to really control our destiny in film, as we have in television. So we’re now producing and financing our own films. Controlling marketing and calendarization is such an important part of what we do across all platforms, so our ability to greenlight television through Hasbro Studios and greenlight our films through Allspark completes the picture for us.

TV KIDS: What are some of the greatest opportunities in today’s kids’ marketplace?
DAVIS: I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be in the kids’ market. Even compared to 2009, the number of platforms available for exposing your content has never been larger. The democratization of content, as kids are actually making their own content, has given our core consumer base an appetite to seek out more content opportunities. Hasbro is a branded play company; we bring play to life. Our core consumers are kids and families, and [there has] never been a better time to take our brands and create great immersive entertainment experiences that are spot-on where the consumer is today.

TV KIDS: Children have so many entertainment options. What are the challenges in capturing their attention nowadays?
DAVIS: One challenge you face is that kids are their own programmers now. They’re not waiting to be told what to watch. They can find content on so many different platforms, and they want it when they want it—they don’t want to wait for it. We’ve looked at that challenge as an opportunity. Again, it goes back to the fundamental [impetus] for forming Hasbro Studios and Allspark Pictures: ensuring that anywhere kids and families are engaging with content, they will see our content. Finn Arnesen [senior VP of international distribution and development], Nina Scales [VP of international distribution] and the sales team spend an extraordinary amount of time not only in the brick-and-mortar sales of our content, but in really understanding what the next step is for distribution. Where are kids? How can we ensure that we get that content in the hands of kids in the right way?

Short-form content is also changing the landscape considerably. It’s easy to say you’re producing content that lives across all these platforms, but it really isn’t all that easy. Kids’ attention spans are short, so you have to ensure that the stories you’re telling engage them quickly, because kids multimedia-task. A couple of years ago our research department found this great statistic that said kids are actually bending time and multimedia-tasking. They’re consuming 11 hours of media in about 7 hours. That’s because they are on multiple platforms at any given time. You want to be sure that you’re engaging them with content on whatever platform they happen to be focused on during that seven-hour period.

TV KIDS: What do children expect nowadays, and how does Hasbro satisfy their expectations?
DAVIS: Kids of the digital generation want to be more immersed in their connection with characters and content. [There is] the trend of toys-to-life on the retail side of our business. It’s marrying the physical and the digital, so that a boy or a girl can have a physical doll or an action figure, and that action figure can actually live in a digital-content-driven world. [Children] feel as though they really are connecting with the play pattern, they can determine the story, they can use digital content to fantasize and create the stories. That is the genesis for their purchase of [My Little Pony’s] Pinkie Pie or [Transformers’s] Optimus Prime.

TV KIDS: How do you drive a consumer-product strategy nowadays?
DAVIS: Storytelling and consumer insight are at the center of Hasbro’s brand blueprint. Listening is a really critical part of what we do. We spend a considerable amount of time and resources on consumer testing, listening to our consumers—the things that they like and don’t like. We actually put our product in front of them, we put our content in front of them, and we ask them the tough questions, and we listen.

Transformers Robots in Disguise [RID] was the second generation of the animated Transformers series (it was originally Transformers Prime and then it went into a new series). RID is a reflection of everything that kids liked and didn’t like about Transformers Prime; it’s the first consumer-generated series that Hasbro has ever done. That came out of a considerable amount of consumer insight. So between activating our brands through storytelling, and listening to the consumer insight we get from boys and girls, moms and dads, we then effectively have those assets as tools in our arsenal to stimulate our toy and game business and our lifestyle licensing business, creating immersive entertainment experiences. We feel like that’s our secret sauce.

TV KIDS: What are the challenges of keeping long-running brands fresh?
DAVIS: We have the privilege of having brands that have great resonance with consumers, such as Transformers, My Little Pony, Littlest Pet Shop. We can support those brands with lots of content, which is really critical to keeping them front and center for kids and families. We’re also incredibly considered about whom we work with, and we really do work with some of the best and most innovative storytellers. They help us keep those stories alive so kids don’t grow bored of them.
We’re also looking at ways to present content differently. Linear is very important to our strategy, and digital is very important to our strategy, but with the format of content—the traditional 22 minutes still remains the pulse of our business—we’re looking at different ways to tell the stories: through short form, through immersive experiences, toys-to-life and other ways that will engage kids.

TV KIDS: How has the evolution of Discovery Family reflected the evolution of the channel business?
DAVIS: One thing that has not changed is the fact that having a domestic broadcast network is very important to creating a globally appealing business, to being able to fully monetize it. Clearly, platforms like Netflix have done an amazing job of demonstrating that not all content has to go on broadcast, but we felt like we needed to be everywhere a kid would be consuming content—that included, as part of the ecosystem, a broadcast network. When we bought 50 percent of [what was then] Discovery Kids, the digital and streaming landscapes were very different. At the time, it was important to us to have that anchor in the U.S. to help give us exposure not only in the U.S. but also internationally. We’ve rebranded the channel, and it’s still the highest-rated network for co-viewing—kids 6 to 11 watching with adults 18 to 49—and it’s still a very critical part of that overall ecosystem.

TV KIDS: From a distribution perspective, what are the challenges and where are the opportunities beyond the U.S.?
DAVIS: The challenges and the opportunities are really one and the same. The international market from a nonlinear perspective has been somewhat behind the U.S., and now it is accelerating. Finn Arnesen, Nina Scales and my phenomenal sales team spend a lot of time figuring out the content management, the rights management, the windowing of our content, to be sure that we are putting that content in the hands of as many kids as we can. That’s the one thing, certainly over the last ten years, that has become increasingly more complicated. But it has also presented tremendous opportunities for all of us.

TV KIDS: Looking ahead, what do children’s content companies need to do to remain relevant for the new media-savvy generation?
DAVIS: It’s about understanding that the generation of kids that we’re engaging with has so many choices and a relatively short attention span (which has probably become more acute as a result of the digitalization of our business). Being authentic is really important. Consumers have very little tolerance for 22-minute or 72-plus-minute commercials. They want to be engaged. It’s about creating great stories and great characters and understanding how [your content] can be as relevant and immersive and engaging for a 3-year-old as it is for a 14-year-old, and that is a challenge of storytelling. But if it’s something you establish as an objective, you can be successful. I think our success is a testament to that.