In Brand Refresh, Children’s TV Network Drops Barney and Thomas for Original Shows

Alyssa Milano is Sprout's first 'Mom-bassador'

After urging preschoolers to embrace and explore the world around them, Sprout is taking its own advice.

To celebrate its 10th birthday on Sept. 26, the children's network—which was fully acquired by NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment in November 2013—is giving itself a major makeover. As part of what it's calling a "brand refresh," Sprout will phase out several of its acquired shows—farewell, Barney & Friends, Thomas and Friends and Super Why!—in favor of new, original shows that will allow NBCUniversal to take full advantage of the network's potential.

Sprout's biggest new investment is Nina's World, an animated prequel to The Good Night Show, featuring star Nina as a 6-year-old girl. (Rita Moreno is voicing Abuelita, Nina's grandmother.) "Nina's World really embodies what Sprout is all about," said Sandy Wax, president and gm at Sprout.

At the same time, the network will unveil a "dramatic overhaul" of its linear service and all other platforms, making the network "more reflective of modern kids and modern families."

"This generation of kids is very used to the simplicity of an Apple device. They live in a world of elevated design," said Wax. Sprout will still be "kid-friendly," but "we felt that we have an opportunity in this space to be very current, very relevant and very modern."

As part of that, The Sunny Side Up Show, Sprout's  morning show which is broadcast live from New York's 30 Rock, will debut a new set—the show's signature character, Chica the Chicken, is moving from the farm to the big city—with more screens that "reflect the way people are using screens in their homes," said Wax.

The new shows and refresh will emphasize Sprout's unique take on children's television that sets it apart from its competitors, said Wax. "We believe that the real world to kids and families is a fun, engaging and great place, and we want to reflect that back on air. We don't think that to be a successful kid or to have a great time you have to be a magical prince and princess and live in a fairy-tale world," she said.

Sprout's updated logo boasts a new tagline. 

This includes a new tagline, "Free to grow," and the network's first celebrity spokesperson, Alyssa Milano, who, as Sprout's first "Mom-bassador," will be the voice of the brand refresh and serve as the face of Sprout's "Kindness Counts" campaign encouraging kids to engage in everyday acts of kindness.

"She really embodies the modern Sprout mom," said Wax.

The network, formerly known as PBS Kids Sprout, launched in 2005 as a library channel jointly owned by Comcast, HIT Entertainment and Sesame Workshop. Since NBCUniversal acquired full ownership of the network in 2013, it has been "on a steady path to a strategy to shift toward an originals-driven network," said Wax of Sprout, which is now available in more than 58 million homes.

"This company sees an opportunity in the children's space, and the idea that Sprout can create new characters and create content that we own and can think about more broadly was part of the reason for that happening," she said.

Sprout will double the percentage of its original series by the end of this year to more than 30 percent of its programming. "We see that on a continued upward trend," said Wax.

In addition to Nina's World, Spout will debut two other original shows on Sept. 26: animated Sydney Sailboat and CGI series Maya the Bee. The network previously launched Astroblast last year, interactive game show Ruff-Ruff, Tweet and Dave in February and Clangers in June.

The new debuts come as the licenses expire for some of Sprout's acquired programming, meaning that the network will be saying farewell to mainstays like Barney & Friends, Thomas & Friends and Super Why! (Sorry, parents, but Caillou, perhaps the single most annoying character on children's television, is remaining on the network.) "The challenge has been with some of these shows in which we share a license with broadcasters and SVOD providers is that we're not offering our viewers exclusive content," said Wax. "So it makes sense and it also gives us an opportunity to stretch that brand towards 5- and 6-year-olds, too."

Despite the slight extension in Sprout's reach, the brand refresh won't affect the network's advertising—categories include retail, health and beauty and movie studios—which is aimed at "that mom who is in the mom mindset," said Wax. "Nothing's changing."

While nothing is planned yet, the network's brand tweaks could ultimately lead to a Sprout presence in NBCUniversal's theme parks, or Sprout TV show based on the company's movie properties like Minions. "There is potential for that, absolutely," said Wax. "But I think the key to all of it is in the intellectual property: having IP that you own, control and can think about which ones are right for building franchises."

Adweek has a first look at "Blanket" one of Sprout's new spots promoting the brand refresh. Narrated by Milano, it emphasizes Sprout's renewed focus on how kids relate to the world around them, explaining, "every blanket is full of possibilities."