By Debra Kaufman
Special to TelevisionWeek
Don’t start shopping for PBS Kids “Sprout Diner” recipe books or pajamas just yet. PBS Kids Sprout, the 24-hour cable network for preschoolers, with accompanying on-demand and Web site, doesn’t push for marketing right out of the gate.
On March 16, PBS Kids’ “Sprout Diner” will begin its second season of episodes featuring popular preschool characters including Barney, Sesame Street’s Elmo, the Teletubbies and others, who visit the Sprout Diner where owner Brussel Sprout and his daughter Bean and granddaughter Alfalfa create healthy, nutritious dishes.
Though the show may appear to be ripe for licensing deals, PBS Kids Sprout’s original programming, including “Sprout Diner,” doesn’t fit the typical 30-minute programming mold. “The idea of deconstructing shows and not scheduling rigid half-hours is often done in international markets,” said PBS Kids Sprout President Sandy Wax. “We’ve taken that idea and made it ours.”
But the energy, for now, is not going into marketing. “Our focus is on creating great content that kids and families want to get involved in,” she said. “If there’s an interest in extending it to [toys], for example, we’ll think about it.”
Unlike PBS, PBS Kids Sprout does take advertising. But even there, the network has its limits. “We have three tenets of advertising,” said Ms. Wax. “We limit it to less than three minutes per hour, we never interrupt a program with ads, so children don’t confuse programs and ads, and the ads are parent-directed.”
PBS Kids Sprout is decidedly multiplatform, and so is “Sprout Diner.” Ms. Wax reported that its on-demand service, which received 110 million orders last year and is currently averaging 12 million per month, is the third-highest-rated on-demand service. The PBS Kids Sprout Web site is also strong, with activities and games for parents and children to engage in together. “For `Sprout Diner,’ Thomas the Train didn’t have a recipe, and we got viewers to submit recipes online,” Ms. Wax said. “We will animate the winning recipe and put that in the show.”
PBS Kids Sprout is a partnership of Comcast, which owns 40 percent; HIT Entertainment, which owns 30 percent; and PBS and Sesame Workshop, each of which hold 15 percent. Ms. Wax noted that 90 PBS stations throughout the country are Sprout affiliates. PBS Kids Sprout does participate in the kids upfront, via the Comcast Network sales group, but as a fledgling network it is still finding its way. “We do go to the upfront looking for opportunities,” Ms. Wax said. “But as a new network, we look for opportunities all year long.”