As of February 2015, Sprout is available to approximately 58 million pay television households (49.8% of households with television) in the United States.
Sprout traces its origins to the PBS Kids network (referred to as '''PBS Kids Channel''' in press materials), which launched on September 6, 1999 coinciding with PBS Kids' rebrand that day. The PBS Kids feed was available on digital cable and satellite television, and was also offered to PBS member stations for use on a "cablecast" service (a cable-only local channel provided by the member station) or for use on the member station's over-the-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 cable 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+, long a 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 not successful and had only reached 9 million households as of 2002, compared to Noggin's 23.3 million households at the time. This ultimately may have been the deciding factor in PBS' decision to shut down the channel in 2005. When the channel did shut down, many member stations which had been using the PBS Kids channel on their cablecast channels or over-the-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.
On October 20, 2004, PBS+ announced that it had entered into a joint partnership with cable provider Comcast+, and production companies HIT Entertainment+ and Sesame Workshop+ to launch a then-unnamed cable and satellite television channel aimed at preschool children. On April 4, 2005, Comcast announced that the network's video on demand service, which would be named '''PBS Kids+ Sprout''', would launch that day, and that the linear television network would launch later on September 1, 2005; the launch date for the television service was later delayed three weeks to September 26. When Sprout launched on September 26, it replaced the PBS Kids+ channel on some providers – helping give it an initial reach of 16.5 million pay television subscribers; the first program to be broadcast on the network was ''Boobah+'', airing at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time+.
Comcast acquired a 51% majority stake of the NBCUniversal Television Group+ in January 2011 (and would assume full ownership of the company on March 19, 2013). As a result, Comcast's interest in Sprout was turned over to NBCUniversal. When Apax Partners sold HIT Entertainment+ to Mattel+ on October 24, 2011, HIT's ownership interest in Sprout was not included in the deal and was retained by Apax Partners. On November 13, 2013, NBCUniversal acquired Apax and PBS's shares in the network, giving the company full ownership of the network, with its operations being merged into its NBCUniversal Cable+ subsidiary. As a result, the "PBS Kids+" branding was dropped from the network's name, renaming it as '''Sprout'''.
Sprout's schedule consists of two programs carried by PBS (''Caillou+'' and ''The Berenstain Bears+''), acquired programming (such as ''LazyTown+'', ''Tree Fu Tom+'', and ''Poppy Cat+''), and originally produced programming (such as ''Pajanimals+'' and ''The Chica Show+''). Unlike other children's television networks, Sprout usually airs programs (which are packaged into two 11-minute segments) that only last one segment. Sprout also airs programming blocks that fill most of the network's schedule, except between 12:00 and 6:00 p.m. and 3:00 and 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time (3:00 and 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time only on weekends).
In July 2012, Sprout began to produce a Saturday morning cartoon/live-action block+ for NBC+ aimed at preschoolers, NBC Kids+ (along with MiTelemundo, a Spanish-dubbed version of the block airing on sister network Telemundo+ that airs on both Saturdays and Sundays), which replaced a similarly formatted block – which itself was produced in conjunction with NBCUniversal – called Qubo+, which had been airing on NBC and Telemundo since September 2006 (Qubo continues to exist as a Friday morning block for Ion Television+, which is now aired on Sunday mornings and now called the Qubo Kids Corner, whose parent Ion Media Networks+ now wholly owns the block's companion digital multicast network). As of October 2014, NBC Kids is the only Saturday morning programming block to air cartoons.
Since NBCUniversal took over management of Sprout in 2011, following its acquisition by the network's original managing partner Comcast, Sprout has evolved from its initial intent to serve as a home for archived content produced by the partners and has invested more heavily in original programming, in order to better compete with fellow preschool-oriented cable networks, Nick Jr.+ and Disney Junior+. Under NBCUniversal, programs seen on the network such as ''The Chica Show'' have gained increased visibility airing on NBC as part of the NBC Kids block.
Despite PBS' divestiture of the channel in 2013, Sprout continued to air several PBS Kids+ programs until their contract with PBS expired on the channel's 10th anniversary, September 26, 2015. The only remaining PBS Kids programs still airing on Sprout are The Berenstain Bears and Caillou.
* '''''Sunny Side Up+''''' – ''Sunny Side Up'' is the network's late morning block, airing from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
* '''''The Good Night Show+''''' – ''The Good Night Show'' is the network's evening and overnight block, airing daily from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time.
Sprout On Demand is the channel's video-on-demand service which launched on April 4, 2005 on Comcast+, six months prior to launch of the linear Sprout channel. The service offers 50 hours of programs a month, with 25% of the programs updated every two weeks.
* (Frank Ahrens, ''Washington Post'', April 5, 2005)
* (Debra Kaufman, ''TelevisionWeek'', December 5, 2005)
* Kids Sprout Takes Root as Leader in Genre (Allison J. Waldman, "TelevisionWeek", Nov 27, 2006)
Sprout (TV network)+ Sprout (formerly PBS Kids Sprout) is an independent American digital cable and satellite television network that is owned by the NBCUniversal Cable subsidiary of NBCUniversal.