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TV

NBCUniversal Is Launching A New Channel: Universal Kids

Comcast/NBCUniversal is launching a new children’s television channel, and it’s made possible in large part by its strategic purchase of Dreamworks Animation last year.

The new channel, Universal Kids, will launch on September 9, replacing NBCUni’s current preschool channel Sprout. The target audience for Universal Kids is children 2 through 11. Initially, Universal Kids programming will run only after 6pm, while Sprout content will fill up the mornings and afternoons.

Programming on Universal Kids remains mostly a mystery, but a couple of the launch programs will be re-runs of Dreamworks Animation series for Netflix: All Hail King Julien and DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk. NBCUniversal will air other family product it owns besides just Dreamworks content, including Illumination films and potential programming related to attractions at Universal theme parks.

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.

  • OdysseyTag

    I guess time will tell how this all pans out. As mentioned in the article, it could quite easily become another Discovery Kids and arguably even another KidsCo. Both had impressive IP archives and still amounted to nothing. I’ve always maintained that children’s programming can’t be left to corporate execs with textbook views on what keeps children distracted long enough for them to count their ratings and profits coming through from their live-action affiliate channels.

    Both commissioned and acquired content should not solely rely on nostalgic value but should also encourage fresh and original content creation and incubation. In the same vein Cartoon Network used it’s Hanna-Babera foundation of programming to springboard it into becoming a hub for original animated programming (although of late going through a somewhat questionable late 90’s / early 00’s revival phase), I hope it can achieve something similar or even better in the near future.

    • Nik Chopper

      With plans of reality tv aimed towards kids, it might be like Discovery Kids (pre-Hub) and the ill-fated live action programs on Cartoon Network from about a decade ago, such as the kiddie versions of Survivor, and Ghost Hunters.

      In this day of age doubt this would work and don’t think Sprout is widely available. It might have the same fate as The Hub network since there’s already well established channels and many people stream online rather than watch tv. Especially the known channels having apps to watch their shows and such.

      Personally I would love to see Woody Woodpecker and various DreamWorks Classics owned programs, I doubt they’ll air on the network since even Cartoon Network have strayed away from classic Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry aside from the same batch of shorts shown on the Boomerang channel.

      • It would be nice if some of that did find a home somewhere on the dial. Sometimes these ‘concepts’ never seem to gel well in the end.

  • Still, rather a shame if the Classic Media library will be put on hold for now in this case.

  • Pedro Nakama

    I know they own all of the classic media characters but it would be nice to see some new characters and shows.

  • J

    This is really gonna screw over content producers for Sprout, with all these Dreamworks shows suddenly stealing their airtime. Studios that don’t have a relationship with dreamworks will be in trouble

  • BlueBoomPony

    There’s still channels? Fixed programming occurring at fixed times during the day? Let me get my buggy whip. :-P

    Honestly, with pretty much everything I stream, I have no idea what network it originally aired on unless they toss up the logo at the start of an episode. Even then I’ve forgotten it a few seconds later.

  • Frank Coufal

    Even though Universal Animation owns Dreamworks now, I personally think it would be great if Universal Studios produced their own animated tv shows in-house.

  • Karl Smith

    The thing is, how will it affect Netflix’s deal with Dreamworks? These launch shows started out as Netflix Originals. Does that mean that new seasons will only air on Universal Kids network now or will Netflix continue to add new seasons on? The Dragons series first started out on Cartoon Network before shifting to Netflix.

    I mean if it’s for people who choose not to subscribe to Netflix. Then that’s a good move. Otherwise there are shows that are still airing on TV Networks today. For example. LEGO Ninjago is still airing on both Cartoon Network and CITV (UK’s kids channel btw) respectively. But the other seasons however is on Netflix so I seriously highly doubt this will affect Dreamworks’ licensing deal with Netflix since those shows Universal Kids is airing are just reruns. Netflix has just released Spirit lately.