But after a government crackdown on kids' marketing forced companies such as Kellogg, McDonald's and General Mills to leave some $1 billion marketing dollars in limbo last year, Kids Sprout started to look prescient. "Sprout has never accepted kid-directed advertising. We never wanted to take sugary cereals or things like that," said Sprout President Sandy Wax. "All of our advertising has been 100%-parent-directed from launch."
Available in 37 million homes, Sprout is viewed primarily on video on demand through a deal with primary owner Comcast Corp., which has a 40% stake in the company. Other investors include Hit Entertainment, PBS and Sesame Workshop. The preschool-friendly programming lineup includes Sesame and Hit shows such as "Bob the Builder," "Sesame Street" and "Barney and Friends."
Although the network is not Nielsen-rated, it has been able to sell on data from its VOD views as well as traffic to its website, pbskids.org. Ms. Wax said since launch, Sprout has totaled 350 million VOD views, with an average of 17 million to 18 million views a month, making it one of the five most-watched VOD networks on TV. Additionally, the website reported 540,000 unique visitors in December 2007, according to Nielsen NetRatings, a 170% increase during the same time period in 2006.
"Kids' content thrives in VOD, and it consistently outdelivers in total views vs. titles available. Sprout is one of the top performers in the space," said Starcom VP-broadcast activation director Jackie Kulesza.
Sprout offers only three minutes of commercial inventory per hour. Ms. Wax said the network began its first year with 30 different brands, but after larger commitments from automotive, insurance and especially movie studios, "I stopped counting."
But Sprout does have two premier sponsors in Huggies/Pull-Ups, which has advertised since launch, and Mott's applesauce, which recently launched a social campaign called "Mott's for Tots."
The Sprout ad model is different from that of the typical PBS show, which can accept only three or four sponsors, according to public-broadcasting guidelines. Since Sprout is a 24-hour network, inventory can be sold by dayparts and flights, so advertisers can run traditional 30-second spots just as they would elsewhere.