Honestly, I think this franchise is already in Universal's parks...Curious George. The program currently airs on PBS, and while the most recent big screen treatment didn't blow the doors off the box office, it's a long-lasting franchise that's still in the public conciousness. The way Universal currently treats this franchise is a travesty with a couple of play areas. Even something as simple as a Cat in the Hat-style ride would be a dramatic improvement.
The other franchise that is kinda overlooked here is Transformers. While Universal has invested millions into turning the Michael Bay movies into amazing rides, there are many cartoon incarnations of the "robots in disguise" that are specifically geared towards kids. There's really nothing preventing Universal from using those versions of the Transformers and creating kid-centric attractions. As a counterpoint, Universal could persue a deal with Mattel for the rights to Barbie that would satisfy the girl audience.
Another idea could be the various anime properties of the past 30+ years. While Disney owns the distribution rights to Miyazaki films, I don't think they actually own the IP or any other Japanese anime properties. There are hundreds of different anime franchises that don't necessarily have huge followings individually, but combined, they are very popular, especially overseas. NBC/Universal is already peripherily invested in this space through SyFy's "Heroes of CosPlay" show. Not only does the anime space include TV shows, but it extends into video games, which is a severely undertapped space in theme parks. Disney is trying to go backwards by developing games based on their theme parks, but adapting video game franchises along with other anime properties into a theme park could be very lucrative.
The other half is Super Mario & Friends.
Make it happen...
Anyway, I find it interesting that Universal seems to need something that Disney has in spades. Also, it works the other way (with thrill rides and "edgier characters").
Thats why I think Universal and Disney greatly compliment each other in the Orlando market. They both are in the Theme Park business, but their target audience seems to be a little spread out.
I think Sprout is the way to go or Nick Jr (if that is still viable)
The "timeless" franchises that would be relevant and fun for kids for many decades to come seem to be:
* Dr. Seuss...which will always be cool and fun, no matter what year it is.
* Curious George...because every generation loves that little monkey's antics.
* Gnomes/Fairies...because you can always have an area with oversized flowers and leaves with a little village for gnomes, elves etc. and kids will love it.
When I was a kid, I loved Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, The Smurfs, and Care Bears. But those went away in the 90s. Some of them came back to some extent, but they aren't as big as they used to be. They will go away again, then come back again, but for whatever reason these brands do not have "evergreen" staying power.
If I was Universal, the smartest investment that could be made would be to theme the children's area to Curious George and Friends...and develop different cute animal buddies for him. They could then have a children's area that's themed to a jungle camp, with lots of fun things to do. It would be like Disney's Adventureland and could use lots of real plants and trees (which saves a lot of money because the Dr. Seuss style buildings and fake trees eat up a lot of cash considering how much repainting they constantly need).
The more visually stunning thing to do would be to make a big Dr. Seuss children's area that's separate from Seuss Landing, but thematically related. I'd make this "WhoVille", and have all the buildings have a child-size kind of feel for them (since the Whos are little guys). All this could be built in the shadow of Mount Crumpet, where there could be a Grinch Saved Christmas ride.
But, the maintenance cost of anything "Seuss" is probably outrageous, considering how quickly paint fades in Orlando's sun.
Even without the trend away from cable, I don't think NBCUniversal can create theme park-level kids franchises through a cable network. The Disney Channel acts to support or reinforce brands created by blockbuster films, but as another commenter noted, original programming, even a show as successful as Phineas and Ferb, just does not create big enough properties to commit to a bricks-and-mortar attraction.
Sprout may grow some big-league kids properties, ones that jump to film, but not before they redo kidszone. One property that kids LOVE right now, and I don't know about the theme park rights, is Kung Fu Panda. Anyone know? And yes, the Curious George brand is alive and well.