Marking its 10th anniversary, 24-hour US preschool net Sprout will showcase a new look and feel across its platforms tomorrow in a brand refresh that will double the volume of its original series by the end of 2015 to more than 30% of its schedule.
Its amplified focus on originals kicks off on September 26 at 7 p.m. ET with the debut of prequel series Nina’s World (pictured) starring the 2D-animated, six-year-old version of adult host Nina from Sprout’s hit live-action program The Goodnight Show.
With increased investment in originals, the network will phase out older, non-exclusive acquired programs like Thomas and Friends and Super Why! in favor of more acquired series with exclusive rights or windows attached like Sprout’s top-performing international acquisition Super Wings! (Funnyflux Entertainment, Qianqi Animation, Little Airplane Productions).
In fact, two newly acquired series, Sydney Sailboat (Essential Media, Ideate Media, Telegael and Lemon Sky in association with Shambles Communications) and Maya the Bee (Studio 100) will make their exclusive Sprout debuts following the Saturday evening premiere of Nina’s World.
Toronto, Canada-based distributor Bejuba! Entertainment announced the Sprout deal for 52 x 11-minute CGI-animated Sydney Sailboat today. The sale follows the series’ successful debut on ABC4Kids in Australia earlier this year.
Additional elements of Sprout’s makeover include a new tagline, Free to Grow, the addition of Sprout’s first celebrity “Mom-bassador” Alyssa Milano and a content and brand aesthetic that better represents today’s modern, tech-savvy kids.
“Kids today are growing up using simplified, more elegant mobile devices from companies like Apple and that is their world. And they are seeing a richer diversity of cultures and lifestyles,” says Spout president and GM Sandy Wax.
In line with the modernity of Nina’s World, Sprout will also unveil a brand-new set at New York’s 30 Rock for its hit live-broadcast morning series The Sunny Side Up Show. The program’s popular character Chica the Chicken will now be transplanted from a farm environment to a modern city landscape.
“It’s inspired by the tiny house movement that is sweeping the US. It’s a fun play space that integrates digital technology in a more overt way which is very reflective of kids’ lives,” says Wax.
As for Sprout’s already strong viewer base of mothers, the appointment of Milano, according to Wax, will help boost the network’s presence with Millennial moms who grew up watching the American actress on TV.
“Alyssa’s a mom herself and best reflects the energy and enthusiasm of our audience. She’s endorsing some of our brand spots and will play a key role in Kindness Counts, our multi-year, pro-social commitment to help inspire empathy in young children,” says Wax. She adds that Sprout’s transition into a content engine for original programming has been steadily evolving since NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment fully acquired Sprout in November 2013.
Last year, three of the net’s new original programs - Scholastic co-production Astroblast, interactive series Ruff-Ruff Tweet and Dave and stop-motion revamp Clangers - struck a chord with Sprout’s audience and become top-rated shows.
To keep that original programming momentum going, new series launching in the first half of 2016 include Terrific Trucks from Toronto’s Breakthrough Entertainment and The Floogals, a live-action/animated co-production with Zodiak Kids prodco The Foundation.
And looking to 2017, Sprout recently greenlit French prodco Cottonwood Media’s The Ollie and Moon Show.
“Our curriculum focus is about real life learning. You don’t have to aspire to be a princess or a prince and live in a fantastical way to have great storytelling.” says Wax. “And we’re very focused on making sure we reach the upper end of the preschool demo - the four- to six-year-olds who can deal with more complex stories, a little bit more drama in a safe way, but creating it rich enough so we don’t alienate the two and three-year-olds.”
She adds that viewers will see more half-hour formats on Sprout, especially during its Super Saturday programming block.
“We’re hearing that when our audience sees a show they like, they will want to see another episode, so we’re experimenting with running more half hours. We find this works very well with today’s generation that tunes in and maybe wants to DVR content,” says Wax. “We’re also maintaining 65 hours of free VOD content, which has been a key part of Sprout since we launched, and to date, has generated 1.8 billion views.”
On the deal-making front, Sprout’s ability to be flexible across platforms, says Wax, will remain a key advantage.
“Our approach allows us to be creative in terms of the types of producers we’re working with and the types of deals that we do. We’re pretty open if there is an alternative financing model where different partners potentially come together, or if there is a different windowing model as we think about different distribution rights,” she says. “As we hit our 10th anniversary, we’re proud that we’re in double digits and very much in a growth mode. And we’re not so established that we can’t be nimble and change assuming we make the investment in content.”