Pop’s Sarah Muller

Sarah Muller, the VP of children’s and youth entertainment programming at Sony Pictures Television Networks (SPTN), talks to TV Kids about what’s guiding the strategy for the company’s linear and AVOD kids’ brands, what she’s got her eye on for acquisitions and how she’s tapping into the “One Sony” initiative to maximize all avenues of promotion.

It was almost exactly a year ago that Muller joined SPTN. No stranger to the kids’ content business, Muller was previously at Channel 5, where she was responsible for the children’s brand Milkshake! She also spent ten years at the BBC, including as CBBC’s head of acquisitions and creative director. For the last year, though, Muller has been leading the programming and development of SPTN’s linear and AVOD kids’ brands, including Pop, Tiny Pop, Pop Max and the recently launched AVOD service Pop Fun.

***Image***TV KIDS: It’s been a year since you joined SPTN. What have been some of the successes over the last 12 months?
MULLER: It’s been quite an exciting 12 months. It’s hard to choose between the Tiny Pop rebrand that brought it firmly into the Pop family, the Pop app launch on PS4, the overhaul of our digital strategy to offer our audience more choice across new platforms like our Pop Fun app and our YouView and Freeview players, or the significant uplift in our sponsorship business. Of course, we also maintained our position as the U.K.’s number one commercial kids’ channel.

TV KIDS: What’s been the programming strategy for Pop?
MULLER: Historically, Pop has very much been an acquisitions-based business and that has been phenomenally successful, so we will continue to secure great titles that our audience will love in this way. But we are thinking carefully about how we can enter the originals space, too. Meanwhile, we are actively looking for exclusive brands that we can really make our own, offering producers and suppliers the opportunity to be part of the Sony family. Top performers are Pokémon, Grizzy & the Lemmings and more.

TV KIDS: What about for Tiny Pop?
MULLER: It’s very much the same effective strategy. The Pop universe is a strong mix of recognizable and exclusive titles, and Tiny Pop is no different. Top shows are Super Wings, Masha and the Bear and Zafari, and again, we are looking for real brands that we can grow and make our own like, for example, Care Bears. Care Bears is a much-loved and recognizable family brand, the new series of which we will be premiering in April. We are also the U.K. linear home for super brand My Little Pony and also—this is very exciting—Cookie Monster. Cookie Monster is not only an opportunity to work with the world-famous Sesame Workshop, but also to bring a much-loved character to our audience.

TV KIDS: What has been working well over on Pop Max?
MULLER: Pop Max has a very loyal following, and it’s Pokémon and Power Rangers all the way, with a liberal dose of laughter and cheekiness sprinkled all over.

TV KIDS: What’s new for the Pop app? How does your approach for the app differ from the linear strategy?
MULLER: Sneak peeks of favorite titles and a refreshed catch-up service are all-new features for the app. Now the app properly reflects what we’re doing on-air and gives the audience a fully immersive 360-degree experience. There’s been a real emphasis on games, too, as they support key brands and enhance the user experience further. Apart from being an obvious part of the Pop world, the app engages the audience in a totally different way and, hopefully, drives eyeballs back to the linear channels, leveraging the value of existing content at a low cost.

TV KIDS: Is there anything in particular you have your eye on for acquisitions across the channels and platforms?
MULLER: We want two things: excellent comedy and live action.

TV KIDS: How are you tapping into the “One Sony” initiative to maximize promotion across the various businesses?
MULLER: Sony is at the intersection of entertainment and tech, which gives us a unique advantage. There’s an emphasis on collaboration across all of our lines of business to better serve our consumers. Sony is better able to give viewers in the U.K. premium content by fully leveraging its strengths across its many businesses from Sony Pictures Television to Sony PlayStation to Sony Pictures Animation, to name just a few.

Our animated Spider-Man series launch in February is a great example of this. Our theatrical, home entertainment and PlayStation teams rallied together to maximize promotional awareness for the series on all of our social media platforms and provided extra air time for advertisements, online competitions and direct mailers. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with teams throughout Sony on more exciting new projects to come.