Sprouting Interaction

PBS Kids Sprout next month will give toddlers the chance to be stars by working user-generated content into a new afternoon programming block.

The programming initiative comes on the heels of a major carriage deal with Time Warner Cable that will place Sprout in thousands of Los Angeles-area homes, according to Sprout president Sandy Wax.

The network on May 5 will launch the “Sprout Sharing Show,” a daily three-hour block of programming which Wax dubs a “YouTube for preschoolers.” During the block, the network will air personal videos of 2-to-5-year-olds that viewers can upload via Sprout’s Web site (www.sproutonline.com).

“Whether it’s your daughter’s dance video, or your kid’s karate class, we want to show on-air things that kids are doing that they are proud of,” she said. “We really saw that the audience was there and ready to do that.”

The block features hand puppets who sing songs and introduce user-generated videos, said Wax. Those interludes will be interspersed between episodes of such Sprout series as Fifi and the Flowertots, Jay Jay the Jet Plane, Pingu, Dragon Tales and Fireman Sam.

In addition, Sprout will introduce a new interactive series, PICME, during the block. The series superimposes digital image of submitted kids’ headshots onto animated bodies, giving toddlers a chance to appear in the show alongside other animated characters.

Wax said the two-year-old network — owned by Comcast, HIT Entertainment, PBS and Sesame Workshop — was inspired to launch the block after seeing the success of its interactive morning block, “Sunny Side Up.” The live block, from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays, features jokes, weather reports, drawings and birthday cards submitted by kids and their parents through the network’s site.

Since its September 2007 launch, Wax said the Sunny Side Up block has generated more than 130,000 user-generated content submissions.

“The two-way aspect is a big driver of what our users are doing, and that impetus of becoming part of Sprout is also what hopefully drives the afternoon block,” she said.

On the distribution front, Wax could not say how many subscribers the network would pick up from the Los Angeles area launch, adding that Time Warner Cable will roll the network on “different tiers” over the next two months.

The network is currently in 37 million unduplicated VOD and linear homes through deals with such distributors as Comcast, TWC, Cox Communications and DirecTV, according to Wax.

“It’s a tough market out there and there’s limited bandwidth,” she said. “The great thing is that we’re hearing [from distributors] that they understand what Sprout is, how’s it’s different and that there is an audience need for it.”

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.