Preschool channel Sprout will become the new U.S. TV home to top preschool entertainers The Wiggles, the Australian song and dance troupe that will bring library episodes of their series from Disney Channel and create and host a new three-hour morning block on Sprout.
Sprout will also create online and on-demand content around The Wiggles, known for their individually colored shirts ("skivvies") that help young kids tell them apart and for sing-along numbers like "Hot Potato" and "Fruit Salad."
The Wiggles have created spin-off programming in several countries, have had "Wiggles World" kids' areas created at Six Flags theme parks and are concert performers who pack arenas with dancing kids and parents. Relentless tourers, they do more than 200 live shows per year.
Three-year-old Sprout, a partnership of Comcast, Sesame Workshop, HIT Entertainment and PBS, elevated distribution of its 24-hour channel by 30% over the last year to 45 million homes.
The service wants The Wiggles to help drive more distribution via the exclusive popular programming and as live performers who are coming to U.S. venues this summer.
"This is our biggest acquisition outside the partnership that Sprout has ever done," Sprout president Sandy Wax said of the five-year agreement with The Wiggles, without disclosing financial terms.
"This is a significant deal for us both in terms of their huge franchise but they're also a really big marketing partner," she said. "As we talk about these tours and talk about them going market by market, we see them as integral to our strategy to spreading the word about Sprout and helping us drive our distribution efforts."
"It was one of those things that was meant to be," Wax said of the troupe coming to Sprout from Disney Channel, where its shows have aired since 2002.
The Wiggles members are Murray Cook (who wears a red shirt), Jeff Fatt (purple), Anthony Field (blue) and Sam Moran (yellow). Moran took over the yellow skivvie from founding member Greg Page when he retired from the troupe in 2006 due to a chronic illness. They are pictured in this story with Wax and Sprout senior vice president of programming Andrew Beecham.
The Wiggles was once a mainstay on the Playhouse Disney preschool block, and still rates fairly well, hitting at a 0.4 Nielsen rating and an average 1.043 million viewers in one of six airings the week of May 11, according to Disney Research figures.
But it has been surpassed in ratings and frequency in the Disney Channel block by Imagination Movers, a newer pre-school show also featuring a musical foursome from New Orleans, scouted at Jazzfest 2005. The show's best performance last week was a 0.7 rating, about 1.9 million viewers.
"On Sprout we can do so much more with The Wiggles and really bring them in ways that our audience wants," Wax said. Wiggles games, coloring pages and other content will be on Sproutonline.com, starting in July.
The Wiggles have notified Disney Channel of their intention to move, as set out in their contract, and the show will go off The Walt Disney Co.-owned channel in mid-June, according to Mike Conway, managing director of The Wiggles Pty Ltd.
He said Disney understood the troupe's desire to align with a 24-hour preschool network that offers an opportunity to make new programming for the morning block and offering "integrated" online and VOD opportunities.
"They understood that this was something we need to do," Conway said of the Disney organization, with which he said The Wiggles are working in Latin America, Japan and Australia. (The Wiggles create programming that is seen in 110 countries.)
Disney Channel said in a statement: "Playhouse Disney has had a wonderful relationship with The Wiggles over the past seven years. We wish The Wiggles all the best as they embark on their next adventure."
The Wiggles have begun (in Australia) an international tour that will take the troupe to the United Kingdom and, in mid-July, the United States.
On Aug. 23, the foursome are to perform at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, near Sprout headquarters in the Comcast Center.
On Aug. 24, accompanied by The Wiggles, Sprout officials will launch the 6-9 a.m. morning block featuring new segments created by The Wiggles in Australia, wrapped around shows in the Sprout stable, such as Angelina Ballerina, Bob the Builder and Sesame Street. Sprout now programs that block as "Musical Mornings With Coo", leading into The Sunny Side Up Show.
Beecham, who'll be working with The Wiggles on the new programming, said Sprout and The Wiggles were starting to work out the block's format. It will certainly involve music, including new original songs from the group, and skits and jokes to "match the mood" of the early morning when preschoolers' engines are getting revved up, Beecham said.
The new segments will be produced in Sydney during about a 10-day period between the U.K. and U.S. legs of the world tour, officials said.
The Wiggles episodes from six seasons on Disney Channel will air throughout the day on Sprout as well.
Wax said Sprout "fully anticipates" creating new episodes of The Wiggles going forward.
Wax and Beechum are former Disney Channel officials who have known The Wiggles members for years in various capacities. The Sprout execs flew to Australia a couple of weeks ago to seal the deal after a short period of negotiation. Beecham and his creative director, Meredith Halpern-Ranzer, are headed back in a couple of weeks, he said.
"The guys are absolutely thrilled," Conway said of The Wiggles. "This is not a platitude -- words will not describe their excitement about this."
They love the concept of a morning block, when preschoolers are full of pep, he said. "We tend to be energetic types of people."
Sprout and The Wiggles have quickly come to see themselves as family, Conway said. When they are all in a meeting, "other than perhaps accents, you wouldn't know who's in The Wiggles and who's in Sprout at times."