Andrew Beecham is Senior Vice President of Programming for Sprout, the first 24-hour preschool network for kids ages 2-6. I caught up with Andrew to chat about the network's original programming and share his thoughts on the future of children's entertainment.
What differentiates Sprout from other channels and programs?
Sprout is unique because our schedule follows the day of a preschooler. We created three hour programming blocks with eleven minute shows in between hosted links that reflect preschoolers’ routines. In the morning, we have “The Sunny Side Up Show” which is about getting kids ready to start their day. In the evening, we have “The Good Night Show which is about winding kids down for bed, brushing teeth, and modeling bedtime behavior. We know that not all kids follow this pattern so we don’t expect parents to either. That's why we have Video on Demand (VOD) which includes shows like Nina Sleeps. Parents find it helpful to make it part of their child’s bedtime routine. If the child sees their favorite characters slumbering sweetly in bed there's an encouragement for them to do the same thing.
Tell me more about the Sprout's new programs.
We are really excited about the new shows coming up over the next year. We just launched “Ruff-Ruff, Tweet and Dave.” It's a sweet show with three adorable characters and a hamster that has a real-time interactive component. “Ruff-Ruff, Tweet and Dave” is the first preschool show with a second screen app that plays along in real time. You can either shout along as questions are being asked or download the app and play along to select the correct answers.
The next show we are launching is “Clangers.” It’s a lovely show about these funny little aliens who live on a planet not too far away from Earth and learn about kindness and family. It’s beautifully narrated by William Shatner and based on a classic UK series with a fresh new spin. The look is similar and is being produced wtih the same stop frame animation technique. The sweetness of the show comes from the slower pacing. Many preschool shows are very fast with music all over the place leaving no space for kids to wonder what's going to happen next. “Clangers” is a show that allows a child to think about the story.
Then, on September 26th, we are incredibly excited to launch “Nina’s World,” our first fully animated show. It’s the backstory to Nina and Star, the hosts of “The Good Night Show,” with young Nina growing up in a multi-cultural neighborhood. She has a very close relationship with Abuelita (her grandma) played by Rita Moreno, with some characters speaking Spanish. It’s a realistic every day adventure that happens to the characters. We are hoping kids can relate to this and think, “This could be my life with my grandma."
Why did you decide to shift to an original programs strategy?
Over the last eight years we’ve taken time to really understand who our audience is and how kids watch and consume content. Now we are making programs that we feel our audience will really enjoy and use. In the past, a lot of our programming came from various companies and other countries. Now, we’re making shows specifically for us. That's really exciting and getting us into a whole new area. In the end, it comes down to telling fascinating and intriguing stories that kids will love told by enchanting characters that kids can relate to.
You mentioned that Rita Moreno and William Shatner are celebrities in your upcoming shows. How important is it to have a celebrity?
Four and five year olds probably have no idea who most celebrities are but we make shows for kids and parents to enjoy together. We know parents get a kick out of seeing or hearing actors they know. I cast William Shatner and Rita Moreno because of their voices and not because they are celebrities. They’re both born storytellers. We think it is important that our shows remain enthralling and engaging for kids while providing something parents will appreciate.
How do you keep content fresh, unique, and relevant to today’s technology savvy kids?
I wish I was a preschooler now. There are so many ways to access content and quickly immerse yourself in new characters, stories and narrative content that is useful to parents in bringing up their kids. Every show we make has a well thought out curriculum attuned to a child’s life. We're not helping kids with academics but with a real life learning curriculum. That means being good citizens, being kind, showing empathy, and having good manners. That socio-emotional curriculum is what all our shows are pushing towards. We know when a character models appropriate behavior; kids are likely to copy them. We also know parents use the characters to guide and teach their children.
You went from burgers to producing TV shows which seems like quite a jump. Can you tell me about your journey to Sprout?
There is some truth to that. In a nutshell, when I left (high) school I landed a job at McDonald’s in Essex, UK. This was all new and exciting because fast food in England up to that point was fish and chips and the McDonald's self-service restaurant was a very novel concept. I attended McDonald's University, became a manager and it hit me that I didn’t want to make burgers for the rest of my life. So I went back to university to do a degree in music and television and I managed to get a job at the BBC. When I graduated university, I started a production company. It began with wedding and bar mitzvah videos and then moved to corporate training videos and that took off. I brought in a partner, hired staff, purchased equipment and after 5 years I won the Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition in the UK. This catapulted me into a bigger role and I got bigger jobs, but then the recession hit. My business failed and I lost everything. That led me back to the BBC where I worked my way up, became a producer, and launched BBC Prime. I then worked for Disney and launched Playhouse Disney in the UK. Then the Sprout opportunity came up giving me a chance to program a new kid’s network. Launching Sprout has been the most exciting and creative time I’ve ever had.