And it won’t be strictly animation either. In fact, the network’s first original series is a kids’ reality show, Top Chef Junior, which is spun off from the popular cooking competition on Bravo (also owned by NBCUniversal).
Veteran television exec Deirdre Brennan, who was hired as the general manager of Sprout in January, is also heading up Universal Kids as its general manager. She previously spent three years as director of programming at Nickelodeon Australia, and has also had stints at BBC Worldwide Australia, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Corus Entertainment.
“We’re connecting our businesses in a way that’s never been done before,” Bonnie Hammer, chairwoman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, said in an email to The New York Times, which was the first to report news of Universal Kids yesterday evening.
Hammer also described the channel as “a new strategic business model,” but while it may be a new model, it’s not exactly a surprising one. This piece I wrote last year following NBCUniversal’s acquisition of Dreamworks talked at length about what they might do with all the new IP and concluded with the suggestion that, “Comcast now has enough IP to potentially start up an entirely new kids channel to compete with Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Nick.”
When NBCUni acquired Dreamworks, they gained ownership of not just the major Dreamworks franchises, but also the Dreamworks Classics portfolio, which includes dozens of tried-and-true children’s properties, among them Casper, Lassie, Little Golden Books, Pat the Bunny, Olivia, Peter Cottontail, Postman Pat, Veggietales, The Lone Ranger, Volton, Where’s Waldo, Baby Huey, Richie Rich, Little Lulu, George of the Jungle, Crusader Rabbit, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dick Tracy, Brenda Starr, Gasoline Alley, Broom-Hilda, Gumby, Felix the Cat, Underdog, Gerald McBoingBoing, and Roger Ramjet.
Add to that Universal’s own Woody Woodpecker and The Land Before Time properties, and launching a channel like Universal Kids is almost a foregone conclusion.
The New York Times pointed out in its story that Universal Kids launches at a time when other cable kids channels are struggling to deal with internet streamers like Netflix and Amazon, which are building their own robust children’s programming. Cartoon Network’s 2-11 viewership dropped 15% in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period last year, while Disney Channel slid 20% and Disney XD plummeted 27% in their first quarters.
And, of course, there is also the cautionary tale of Discovery Communications and Hasbro’s short-lived The Hub, which lasted just four years before pivoting to another format.
But should Universal Kids find the magic formula, a children’s network can be an extremely profitable venture. Nickelodeon grossed $975 million worth of ad revenue in 2014 alone, and has added many billions more over the last decade, driven by the success of its animated juggernaut Spongebob Squarepants. With figures like that, you can’t fault any entertainment conglomerate for wanting to give it a shot.