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Universal Kids (formerly PBS Kids Sprout and Sprout as the logo used to be) is an American pay television channel owned by the NBCUniversal Television and Streaming division of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast.
The channel first launched on September 26, 2005, originally a joint venture between PBS, Comcast, Sesame Workshop, and HIT Entertainment, devoted to children’s television programming aimed at a preschool audience. Following Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal, the company gradually bought out the remaining owners’ shares in the channel, reaching full ownership in 2013. The network’s operations were subsequently relocated from Philadelphia to New York City, and the “PBS Kids” name was dropped from its branding.
On September 9, 2017, the network rebranded as Universal Kids (derived from sister film studio Universal Pictures), and began to devote its evening and primetime lineup to programming targeting a youth audience, including DreamWorks Animation content, unscripted programming (including game shows, and youth spin-offs of reality series from its sister networks, such as American Ninja Warrior and Top Chef), and imported series from other countries. Universal Kids continues to air a block of preschool programming during its daytime schedule.
As of January 2016, the channel was available to approximately 56 million American pay television households (48.2% of households with television) in the United States (when it was still primarily known as Sprout).
About Universal Kids
Universal Kids traces its origins to the PBS Kids network (referred to as the PBS Kids Channel in press materials), which launched on September 6, 1999 coinciding with the rebranding of PTV, PBS’ children’s programming block, to PBS Kids that day. The PBS Kids feed was available on high-tier subscription providers, and was also offered to PBS member stations for use on a “cablecast” service (a subscription-based local channel provided by the member station) or for use on the member station’s free-to-air analog channel to provide a portion of the daytime PBS Kids programming on the station. Participating stations were required to pay an annual fee of $1,000 to use the feed. At launch, 32 PBS member stations had signed up to use the service. The channel was created, in part, to compete against Nick Jr. and its sister network Noggin (which now shares its name with the Nick Jr. block). Because the pay TV rights to the Children’s Television Workshop’s program library were owned by Noggin (which CTW owned a 50% interest in at the time), the channel did not broadcast any CTW programming, including Sesame Street, a longtime staple of PBS’ children’s programming lineup. The CTW-produced Dragon Tales, which premiered on the same day as the launch of the PBS Kids Channel, was the only exception to this.
The channel was unsuccessful and had only reached 9 million households as of 2002, compared to Nick Jr.’s 23.3 million households at the time. Once the channel shut down, many member stations which had been using the PBS Kids channel on their cablecast channels or free-to-air digital subchannels continued to operate their children’s channels as local services scheduled independently of a satellite feed, while other member stations shut down their kids channels entirely and redirected viewers of those channels to the newly launched PBS Kids Sprout. PBS later revived the PBS Kids Channel on January 16, 2017, this time with an online streaming option in addition to utilizing largely the same distribution methods that had been used for the original channel.