MBPT Spotlight: With NBCU’s Clout, Sprout Is Hoping to Grow Its Share of the Kids Ad Market

Preschool network Sprout is hoping to make greater inroads in the kids ad sales marketplace now that it is fully owned by NBCUniversal and will be sold in the upfront in conjunction with some of the other NBCU TV networks—particularly Oxygen, Bravo and E!—that target preschool kids’ millennial mothers.

Laura Molen, executive VP and head of NBCU’s Ad Sales Lifestyle Group, says, “This will be our first time selling Sprout as part of the entire NBCU family and there are many ways we can integrate it with our other lifestyle networks. Reaching millennials is a challenge for all marketers and they are always looking for ways to do it. Oxygen has a high concentration of millennial mom viewers, as does Sprout.”

Molen says her sales team will be trying to get advertisers to look for alternatives beyond the larger kids networks. Since NBCU took over Sprout in November, the network has been moving more aggressively after the toy category, looking to broaden the types of toys Sprout will allow marketers to promote. Molen also plans to go more heavily after retail and food advertisers, and pitch more automakers and travel marketers trying to reach those millennial parents—“even millennial dads,” she says.

“The viewers of our lifestyle networks, including the parents of Sprout preschoolers, are younger, more affluent and more social,” Molen says, “so we are going to be working with advertisers to customize messages on TV, online, via mobile, social and on video-on-demand.”

Going to market in the upfront with the adult NBCU millennial-skewing lifestyle networks will make it easier for the sales team to bring up Sprout in the conversations and perhaps extend marketers’ buys to include the preschool network as an additional way to reach those millennial parents.

During NBCU’s Cable Entertainment Group upfront presentation on May 15, Sprout will be part of the pitch for the first time and the idea will be put in media buyers’ heads on ways to incorporate the preschool network into their overall NBCU media buy.

Tough Road Ahead

Making significant inroads in the kids’ marketplace is not going to be easy for Sprout, which first went on the air in 2005. According to ad sales data from SNL Kagan, in 2013, Nickelodeon, including Nick at Nite, took in about $1 billion in advertising; Cartoon Network, including its Adult Swim nighttime block, took in $500 million; The Hub garnered about $56 million; and Sprout ad revenue totaled about $18 million.

Sprout’s total has been held down a bit by the network’s decision to put less advertising in its programming.

“We’ve always been ad supported but we are very conscientious about not oversaturating with commercials because even though parents are watching, our programming is geared to 2-5-year-olds,” says Sprout president Sandy Wax. “FCC guidelines say kids programming can have about 12 minutes of commercial time per hour on weekdays and 10 minutes per hour on weekends, but we have limited our commercial time to only about six minutes per hour.”

Sprout will also be trying to get marketers dollars in categories that some of the larger kids networks already have made significant inroads in, such as retail and automotive.

So can Sprout differentiate itself from its larger kids network competitors? Both Wax and Molen cite Nielsen data, which shows Sprout having the highest composition of women 18-49 on a total-day basis of any kids network, although it is off a lower audience base.

In the first quarter, women 18-49 made up 22.5% of Sprout’s total day audience, compared to 21.2% for The Hub; 20.3% for Disney Jr.; 19.8% for Nick Jr.; 17.3% for Nickelodeon; 15.8% for Disney Channel; 14.9% for Cartoon Network; 14.6% for Nicktoons; and 12% for Disney XD.

Among other selling points, Sprout will go to market with: (1) the network recorded its highest women 18-49 total day average audience ever in 2013, up 13% from 2012, and those numbers were up again in first quarter; and (2) each quarter Sprout cumulatively reaches 8.6 million women in the 18-49 demo.

Sprout will not be alone in pitching to marketers on coviewing among mothers and their kids. All the ad-supported kids networks have realized that if they want to broaden their ad base, they need to begin touting their “mom” audiences.

With NBCU, since November, having full ownership of Sprout, the network will have deeper pockets to continue to expand its original programming, but on a more rapid pace than in years’ past.

Sprout will be premiering new original series Astroblast! in July. The series follows the adventures of a crew of space animals and also will have age-appropriate messages in the story lines about friendship, self-awareness and nutrition.

In February 2015, it will premiere Ruff Ruff, Tweet and Dave, a preschool interactive game show where kids can play along on a tablet or smartphone. Ruff Ruff is a puppy, Tweet is a bird and Dave is a panda and while they go on adventures, they involve the audience by asking multiple choice questions throughout the show.

In June 2015 Sprout will premiere Clangers, a stop-motion animation series about a family of mouse-shaped creatures. It’s based on a BBC series that first aired in 1969, but has been totally redone for Sprout.

In September 2015, Sprout will premiere animated series Nina’s World, which will feature the adventures of Nina, the host of Sprout’s The Goodnight Show, as a little girl. And in October 2015 it will premiere Floogals, which follows the adventures of three aliens who land on earth and move in with a family to learn about interacting with humans. The series is aimed at teaching preschoolers how to deal with everyday problems that arise and to gain an appreciation and understanding of unique things in the world around them.