On-Demand Net for Tots Sprouts on Cable

San Francisco— Comcast Corp. invited some big characters — Barney, Big Bird and Bob the Builder among them —to help usher in the PBS Kids Sprout video-on-demand service during an outdoor launch party here April 4.

Comcast officially joined the crowded cable pre-school marketplace with the debut of the VOD service, which offers 50 hours of programming a month — 25% of which will be updated every two weeks.

The linear service is expected to launch later this year, according to network representatives.

The PBS Kids Sprout service — a collaboration of Comcast and children’s content companies PBS, HIT Entertainment and Sesame Workshop — is currently up and running on VOD-enabled systems within Comcast and Insight Communications, replacing the existing PBS Kids VOD offering.


The channel features such popular pre-school shows as Sesame Street, Barney & Friends, Caillou, Bob the Builder and Dragon Tales.

A network spokeswoman said it’s unclear if the service will also automatically replace PBS Kids On Demand for other MSOs, such as Cablevision Systems Corp.

Comcast senior vice president of content development Amy Banse said Sprout is in active negotiations with a number of cable operators for carriage of both the VOD and linear channels.

DirecTV Inc. will launch the 24-hour linear network when it launches in third-quarter 2005. “Everybody recognizes that this is a perfect fit for VOD,” Banse said.

“I’m very optimistic that we’ll have a number of operators signed up by the time we launch the linear channel.”

Banse said the network will be priced “very, very reasonable considering the quality of the product” although she would not reveal specific figures.

PBS Kids Sprout will compete head-to-head with other pre-school targeted services as Noggin, Disney Channel’s “Playhouse Disney” afternoon block, and Nickelodeon’s “Nick Jr.” block. Cartoon Network is also expected to launch a pre-school block later this year.


Unlike those networks, PBS Kids On Demand will offer commercials, which has already drawn the ire of some advocacy groups.

In a letter sent to PBS last week, Commercial Alert — a nonprofit commercial watchdog organization — expressed concern over ads that would appear alongside public broadcasting staples shows like Barney & Friends and Sesame Street, which air commercial-free on PBS stations.

“Public broadcasting is supposed to be an alternative to the commercial networks and a refuge from the huckstering that assaults children there. It is supposed to give kids, and parents, a real choice in this regard – a choice where kids won’t be seduced with junk food, junk entertainments and noxious commercial values with which parents may disagree,” Gary Ruskin, Commercial Alert’s executive director, said in an earlier (March 30) statement.

Banse countered that none of the programs will be interrupted by commercials and that each show will have “PBS-like” sponsorships that will be targeted more to parents.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.