It used to be Time Warner had the biggest hand in both the content and distribution sides of cable TV, but now Comcast has firmly taken over the leadership role there. NBCUniversal, the TV programming subsidiary of Comcast, announced this week that it has taken full ownership of Sprout, the preschool network Comcast launched in 2005 as a joint venture with PBS, Sesame Workshop, and HIT Television Ventures.
The move puts Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) squarely in the middle of the children's television brand marketing battle, competing with the likes of Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIA), and Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK). Financial terms of the Sprout buyout were not disclosed.
Children's television is prime fodder for video on demand (VOD). Sprout President Sandy Wax said in a press release that it has already generated more than 1.5 billion on-demand views. It offers kid favorites like Caillou and Sesame Street, as well as such original programming as The Chica Show and Noodle and Doodle. Sprout, which just announced expanded carriage deals with Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Bright House Networks last week, now reaches more than 60 million homes.
Separate from the Sprout news, Reuters is reporting that Comcast has plans to create a movie service that would let customers buy films for download and streaming. This would supplement movie rentals on Comcast's VOD platform, as well the subscription-based Streampix offering.
With the news this week that Hulu LLC is in talks with Comcast about bundling video services, it's clear that the cable company is keeping its content options open -- and its ambitions high. (See: Hulu Cozies Up to Cable, Telcos .)
— Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable