NBCUniversal plans to relaunch Sprout as “Universal Kids”

Earlier this week, NBCUniversal (a division of Comcast) announced it’s turning its preschooler oriented cable network, Sprout, into “Universal Kids.”

The new network, set to debut September 9, will feature programming meant to appeal to children ages 2 to 11. The new programming will launch with “All Hail King Julien” and “Dragons: Riders of Berk,” two DreamWorks Animation shows. Both shows are also Netflix mainstays. There’ll also be some reality shows, including a kid-oriented spin-off of “Top Chef.”

The new network programming seems more like a block; it’ll air during the late afternoon and evening hours. Sprout will stay as a block airing from 3 AM to 6 PM; thus, Sprout star Chica the chicken isn’t being evicted. (Given one of my nieces likes Chica, that’s a good thing.)

Pros and cons

On the plus side, this gives Comcast a chance to make extensive use of its purchase of DreamWorks Animation. They’ll have a whole cable channel to air “Shrek,” “Madagascar,” etc., plus Illumination films like “Despicable Me.” There’s also the vast classic animation library DreamWorks Animation owns, in the (probably low) likelihood they ever decide to rerun “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” Or, more likely, produce and air modernized versions of the classics like Netflix’s “Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show.”

On the down side, kids’ TV, like adult TV, is shifting more toward streaming services and shows on demand. Still, DreamWorks does have a pretty strong presence on Netflix. At this time, there’s probably no reason for DreamWorks to pull its shows from Netflix, as it gives them a strong presence on a popular streaming service. Of course, that could change if Comcast tries to beef up/favor its own streaming presence.

Another possible stumbling block is that kids’ cable TV ratings have taken a hit in recent years.  CNBC (NBCUniversal’s financial channel arm) notes that ratings for Nick have held steady, but are sharply down for Cartoon Network and Disney Channel.

CNBC also reminds us of the fate of Discovery’s “The Hub,” which is now Discovery Family. Discovery Family airs Hub’s cartoons during daytime hours, but switches to live-action shows during late afternoon and evening hours. This seems similar to Universal Kids’ plans.

Do you look forward to Universal Kids’ launch?

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