Commentary

"Sesame Street" Now Takes A Turn To HBO, Online

If you want to reach adults, it’s not a bad idea to do it through their children. 

That’s got to be one of the ideas behind the announcement today that HBO has licensed the next five years of “Sesame Street,” the children's show that is often among the first TV programs parents purposely expose to their little ones.

It’s been like that forever, or at least since 1969, when it debuted on a new thing called PBS.

Those HBO shows will get handed off to PBS, for free, nine months later. PBS will continue to show “Sesame Street” episodes more or less as it always has. Well, less, really, because in the past, “Sesame Street” episodes were seen first there. But for little kids, that would seem to be pretty close to being totally irrelevant.

But this is very big news for streaming video.

These “Sesame Street” episodes will be available on HBO cable network but also on its streaming apps, HBO On and HBO Go. In addition, nonprofit Sesame Workshop will produce a “Muppet” spinoff series and develop a new original educational series for children. On top of that, HBO has licensed a 150 library episode of the venerable, much-lauded television show. The new shows will begin as early as late fall.

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The deal between Sesame Workshop and HBO gives the pay service a powerful cookie monster to compete for more subscribers from Netflix and Amazon. Two years ago, Amazon cut a deal with for rerun rights to several Nickelodeon staples, including “Dora the Explorer,” “Blue’s Clues” and “SpongeBob Square Pants.”

In addition, it has a original series for kids, including “Tumble Leaf,” “Creative Galaxy” and “Annendroids.”

Netflix has its Just for Kids children’s lineup, with partners including PBS, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and DreamWorks. Starting next year, it also becomes the pay home for Walt Disney animated and live action films after their theatrical run, a deal struck in 2012 when Netflix was half as big as it is now. There’s also YouTube Kids and DirecTV’s Kids, a new app.  

If these little kids only realized the power they wield.

But clearly, since the invention of the VCR, children’s television has changed--indeed, they may be the pioneers of successful video on demand, like they were the pioneers of McDonald’s on demand.  

“Over the past decade, both the way in which children are consuming video and the economics of the children’s television production business have changed dramatically,” said Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of the show. In order to fund our nonprofit mission with a sustainable business model, Sesame Workshop must recognize these changes and adapt to the times.”

Variety reports that PBS for years only funded only 10% of the series’ production. The rest was provided by Sesame Workshop, partly from the sale of DVDs. Now that DVDs are losing out to streaming video, it would seem heading for a streaming provider was a natural path.

Still, PBS and “Sesame Street” are virtually joined at the hip. PBS was brand new in 1970; “Sesame Street” premiered on public television a year before that.

pj@mediapost.com

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