Comcast Corp.-owned NBCUniversal is rebranding Sprout as Universal Kids, seeking older child viewers as the Philadelphia-launched cable channel faces competition from Netflix, Disney, and Viacom.
Tapping one of Comcast’s recent acquisitions, NBCUniversal will add an animated DreamWorks series to the struggling Sprout. Comcast bought DreamWorks Animation in 2016 for $3.8 billion.
Another new kids' show will be a Top Chef spin-off from NBCU’s Bravo network titled Top Chef Junior.
Now based in New York at Rockefeller Center, Sprout had been aimed at a preschool audience. Universal Kids expects to draw kids up to 11 years old. The name change officially takes place Sept. 9 and will enable a marketing tie to the Comcast-owned Universal theme parks.
Deirdre Brennan, new general manager of the children’s network, was unavailable for comment.
“The launch of a channel that represents the world of NBCUniversal family brands with great TV content at its center makes tremendous sense for our business,” Brennan said in a statement.
Frances Berwick, president of NBCUniversal’s entertainment lifestyle networks, said she sees “enormous potential to grow our audience in this space.” She added that “we will benefit from promotion across our portfolio of networks and across the company.”
Revamping Sprout comes as NBCUniversal cable networks deal with declining TV ratings across the sector because of the popularity of streaming. NBCUniversal head Steve Burke has said that weaker cable networks could be shut down, and the company has already shuttered the Esquire channel.
Sprout is one of NBCUniversal’s smaller cable channels, with total revenue of $102 million in 2016, according to research firm SNL Kagan. Advertising revenue fell from a high in 2013 of $20.2 million in 2013 to $17 million last year, SNL Kagan says.The channel is distributed to 56.4 million homes. For comparison, Disney Channel had $1.8 billion in revenue in 2016 and was distributed to about 94 million homes.
Comcast launched Sprout in Philadelphia in 2005 in a partnership with PBS. When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in 2011, Sprout management and studios relocated to New York. The PBS tie ended when Comcast took full control of Sprout in 2013.