CMA Event Recap: Red Chair Series – Andrew Beecham, former Sprout SVP of Programming

Sometimes, seizing your destiny involves making the best of every opportunity that comes your way. Sometimes, it involves McDonalds.

In Andrew Beecham’s case, it involves both.

Andrew-Beecham-175x175That’s why he looks so happy

Sitting opposite Amy Friedman in her beloved red chairs, he spoke to an enormous room full of people on Tuesday 16. And, being British, he was both naturally charming and generously loquacious. He was a great fit for The Red Chair Series.

TheRedChairSeries_logo_FINALsmallerEngaging the people behind media empires one cozy chair at a time

And so was Sprout, with its clear mission and brand. It “feels like homebase. You can feel the presence of preschoolers and their parents.” Andrew Beecham helped make it that way – and oversees creative and strategic duties (programming and digital strategy, productions and acquisitions, scheduling, VOD, and online content). In short, if you’ve got a question about Sprout, he’s who you want to talk to.

 

And it all started across the pond.

He grew up in England to a family of lawyers and doctors, and always felt like the odd one out. When he had to tell his headmaster what he planned on doing after school, all he could think of was making TV shows. Naturally, he ended up working at McDonalds as a “Saturday Boy.” And loved it.

Like every position in his career, Andrew used his knack for learning things quickly to learn as much as he could. Even though he was lazy. He even held the record for selling the most amount of hamburgers in an hour (over 1,200 pounds!), and earned a degree in Hamburgerology (yes, really!).

McDonalds U Degree

These exist!

Ultimately he became a manager and did parties and tours, teaching him quite a lot about how to make kids happy, teamwork, and that the customer/audience is always right. From there, he went back to school and worked a variety of jobs (BBC runner! Wedding videographer! Charity party planner!), where he made the most of every moment – even the hard ones (losing his company, his lovely red sports car, his girlfriend of 10 years). “I think it turned me into a nicer person,” he shared. “It grounded me back to what I really loved, which was making stuff.”

Eventually, Andrew ended up in the BBC World Service as a network director. He found he enjoyed choosing and organizing content and got into training courses at the BBC, leading him to entertainment channels and creating content rather than simply choosing it. He leveraged his experience to learn strategies for promos, and ultimately he ended up at Disney launching the preschool block when it was just launching in the UK. Andrew found lots of challenges in translating American content to the UK, and learned how to make it relevant for its audience and their tastes (UK audiences are used to a very different style of presentation than the US). That channel spun out globally and he had just enough money to add a little local flavor to each market, so he built a playhouse and brought it out to different locations, making it an ambassador for the brand. And localizing it for each market (Spain hated the red door. And France wanted its female host to show cleavage. Lessons learned!). Again, Andrew simply did his best.

2012-06-26-Andrew-BeechamAnd was surrounded by adorable

He did so well, in fact, that he worked his way out of his job: he set everyone else up so well they didn’t need him anymore… and that’s when he called up all his contacts. Ultimately, he ended up chatting with the folks who created Sprout and started his new gig 4 days after interviewing across the pond. On his first day he found himself staring at a list of programming libraries he could mine for content, and realized, “no one had worked out that it takes more than shows to make a network.” He saw lots of content that had been on other networks and came up with a strategy to make it fresh and unique. And, as always, relevant.

The original vision for Sprout came from watching his wife try to put his kids to bed and he thought about making something that would make her life easier. Hence, Sprout’s initial identity as “a network that helped parents.” From that seed evolved a channel whose programming was split into 3-hour blocks revolving around what happened in a preschooler’s day – getting up, getting ready for school, going to bed, etc. “Our secret,” Andrew shared, “is that we’re really there for parents.” They also broke up the content into 11-minute portions, creating short-form content out of forced long-term blocks. They even tried a live show in the morning, which most people thought was crazy but he wanted to try – and it became a hit!

Chica ShowHow could it NOT be when it looks that cute!

10 years later, Sprout is doing its best to expand VOD content and short-form programming blocks by commissioning co-produced new content. He showed us a sneak peek of 3 of those new shows — and while you can see the event on the livestream or CMA YouTube page, you can’t see these. Yet another reason to actually show up to our event in person.

After that, it was time for Q&A! Here are the highlights:

  •  While it seems like Andrew’s an incredible risk taker, he insists that his tolerance for it has stayed the same – and the only way to get noticed as a new network is to do risky things.
  • A 4-week rotating schedule with just an Associate Producer and on-air talent makes a morning live show for kids both relevant AND cost-effective (seriously: check out the video to hear that evil genius level breakdown).
  • A “Marmite show” is UK terminology for a show that people either love or hate. Like Caillou.
  • Sprout is looking for digital talent and content creators. If you’ve got the next property to take them from a little network to a big network, check out their development process! (access isn’t as easy as it used to be, so that’s your best bet)

Andrew closed by stating that you can only look forward in this business because it’s changing so quickly, and that he’s incredibly fortunate to have a team around him that’s as committed to Sprout’s 3 Core Values (Happy, Heart, and Home) as he is.

“You really are the luckiest person on Earth,” Amy Friedman concluded.

“I think so,” Andrew admitted.

So what’s the big takeaway? It’s not the amount of luck you have that determines your success in this industry. It’s how you use it.

Goodnight Show

And how many adorable things you can make.