NBCUniversal is rearranging the toys it uses in its kids-programming playground.
The company’s Universal Kids will place a bigger bet on its ties to DreamWorks Animation, which NBCU bought in August of 2016 for approximately $3.8 billion. The network will stop developing original shows that are not based on DreamWorks properties, according to a person familiar with the matter, though it will continue to acquire series made by third-party producers.
The move takes place amid declining ratings and an executive restructure that has the network’s operations reporting directly to Frances Berwick, the executive who oversees NBCU’s lifestyle-based cable networks, including Bravo and Oxygen. Deirdre Brennan, the former general manager of Universal Kids, left in February. Universal Kids has been the primary vehicle NBCU hoped to ride to get into the multi-billion dollar market for kids entertainment, jockeying with rivals like Walt Disney, Viacom’s Nickelodeon and WarnerMedia’s Cartoon Network. But kids don’t become giants overnight, and NBCU has had to work to transform a cable network once known as Sprout and aimed at pre-schoolers into something that appeals to kids both young and growing. Universal Kids at present targets different young audiences at different times of day.
The programming move is being made to “ensure the long-term viability” of Universal Kids, the person said.
Current original shows that have already gone into development are expected to turn up on the network’s schedule in months to come, this person said, including the second season of “American Nina Warrior Junior,” which is slated to debut in 2020.
The network’s current schedule currently uses morning and afternoon hours to entertain preschoolers with series such as “Masha and the Bear,” “Bob The Builder” and “Barney and Friends” and evening hours to hook kids and families on “The Adventures of Puss in Boots” and “Top Chef Junior.”
The network was discussing plans for originals as recently as May. At that time, Universal Kids unveiled its intention to develop”Top Chef Junior Remix,” a spin-off of a “Top Chef” series for kids it already airs, as well as “Create the Escape,” an original that would have kids design an escape room with the help of experts, and then dispatch adults or even guest celebrities to try to extricate themselves.
Kids’ networks face a tough challenge in an era when younger viewers have a dizzying amount of content available to them at a moment’s notice. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all feature original series aimed at children. Meanwhile, PBS has worked to makes its kids’ programs available in non-linear formats as well as via a separate digital cable option tied to various local stations.