sproutbday.jpgSprout, the first 24-hour preschool network created for children ages 2-5 and their parents and caregivers celebrated its fifth birthday this past Saturday.

Below is a recent Q & A* with Andrew Beecham - Sprout's Senior Vice President of Programming, on future plans for the network and how they differentiate themselves from the competition:

Q: As Sprout celebrates its fifth birthday, can you describe how the network has evolved over the years?

A: Five years ago, Sprout launched in 13 million homes with a collection of gold-standard preschool shows and a single block, The Good Night Show. Now, in over 50 million homes, Sprout is one of the fastest-growing linear networks in recent history. Our entire schedule has been filled with wonderful content and blocks that uniquely follow the day of a preschooler starting in the mornings with Sprout's Wiggly Waffle (hosted by The Wiggles, of course!) and television's only LIVE show for preschoolers, The Sunny Side Up Show (hosted by Chica the Chicken with Sean, Kelly and Dennisha), followed by The Sprout Sharing Show (hosted by Ricky, Patti and Curtis E. Owl) and finally The Good Night Show (hosted by Nina and Star). In addition to blocks, Sprout has managed to acquire a number of exclusive, first-run programs like Roary the Racing Car, Fifi and the Flowertots and dirtgirlworld.

Q: What type of feedback do you get from families who watch Sprout?

A: Families love Sprout, and they love to interact with us on a daily basis. In fact, we have received over one million viewer submissions to date. Whether it's mom or dad sending in a birthday card, or a "Sproutlet" sending in a weather report, we receive thousands of emails, cards and requests every week. We also spend a great deal of time talking to families and asking their opinions in order to make sure the content we're making is right for our audience. Our hosts, both human and puppet, are especially popular. We not only receive a lot of positive feedback about them, but when they visit local neighborhoods the lines to meet them stretch clear around the block! Parents have told us that they trust our programming and that they enjoy watching Sprout with their kids.

Q: How do Sprout's interactive elements help to extend the TV viewing experience?

A: We know that parents and kids are passionate about Sprout and love to get involved. We've created many ways for this to happen, like the 5th Wiggle game in Sprout's Wiggly Waffle or Dress Chica in The Sunny Side Up Show. These interactive elements encourage families to create a framework for parent-child dialogue that promotes preschoolers' social, emotional and cognitive learning.

Q: How can affiliates leverage the power of Sprout in their marketplace?

A: Sprout's triple play of content platforms - on TV, On Demand and online - provides a great opportunity to showcase cable's many product offerings. With shows kids love and parents trust, Sprout offers affiliates the ability to leverage popular and trusted characters such as Big Bird, Elmo, Barney and The Wiggles to highlight the value cable provides their customers. Affiliates can also work with Sprout to develop custom promotions and events that meet their business needs.

Q: How does Sprout's unique model differ from its competition?

A: We are the only preschool network that connects its shows through curriculum-based, hosted blocks. We believe in real-life learning that promotes active viewing and participation beyond the television, and we find new ways to innovate and connect television and digital media to allow kids and families to participate in and "live Sprout!"

*Republished from Comcast Networks Quarterly newsletter.