Sesame Street Moves To HBO
Sesame Street is moving to HBO:
The letters of the day on “Sesame Street” are H, B and O.
Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit group behind the children’s television program, has struck a deal with HBO, the premium cable network, that will bring the next five seasons of “Sesame Street” to HBO and its streaming outlets starting this fall.
The partnership will allow Sesame Workshop to significantly increase its production of “Sesame Street” episodes and other new programming. The group will produce 35 new “Sesame Street” episodes a year, up from the 18 it produces now. Sesame Workshop also will create a spinoff series based on the “Sesame Street” Muppets and another new educational series for children.
After nine months of programming exclusively on HBO, the shows also will be available free on PBS, its home for the last 45 years. “Sesame Street” will also continue its run on PBS this fall, with the season featuring a selection of episodes from the last several seasons edited in new ways.
“Sesame Workshop’s new partnership does not change the fundamental role PBS and stations play in the lives of families,” Anne Bentley, a PBS spokeswoman, said in a statement, noting that PBS stations reach more children ages 2 to 5, more mothers of children under 6 and more low-income children than any children’s TV network, according to Nielsen.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Sesame’s partnership with HBO comes at a critical time for the children’s television group. Historically, less than 10 percent of the funding for “Sesame Street” episodes came from PBS, with the rest financed through licensing revenue, such as DVD sales. Sesame’s business has struggled in recent years because of the rapid rise of streaming and on-demand viewing and the sharp decline in licensing income. About two-thirds of children now watch “Sesame Street” on demand and do not tune in to PBS to watch the show.
PBS was not able to make up the difference, so Sesame was forced to cut back on the number of episodes it produced and the creation of other new material.
Jeffrey D. Dunn, chief executive of Sesame Workshop, said that the partnership with HBO would allow the group to continue to produce “Sesame Street” and to further its mission to help educate children.
“The partnership is really a great thing for kids,” Mr. Dunn said. “We’re getting revenues we otherwise would not have gotten, and with this we can do even more content for kids.”
For HBO, the partnership provides the network with prestigious and popular television programming for both its traditional television network and its new stand-alone streaming service HBO Now, which is aimed at people who do not have or do not want cable TV subscriptions. In addition to the new series, HBO licensed more than 150 library episodes of “Sesame Street.” It also licensed about 50 past episodes of “Pinky Dinky Doo” and “The Electric Company” from Sesame Workshop.
On the surface at least, this seems like a rather odd combination for both companies involved. From HBO’s point of view, it’s certainly different from the content that it has come to be known for, especially when it comes to original programming such as Game of Thrones. Of course, branching out into new forms of entertainment is arguably in the company’s interest since it has the potential to increase audience size. This is especially now the HBO is marketing its ow streaming service along with the more traditional enhanced cable package that it has traditionally been part of. The question, of course, is how many people who don’t have HBO at this point, either via cable or the new streaming service, are going to be inclined to sign up for it because they now carry original Sesame Street programming. From Sesame Workshop’s perspective, this at least seems like a marked departure from the mission that they have followed for the past 46 years or more regarding children’s programming and education. When they’re broadcasting on PBS, which is basically available to anyone with a television set, that mission makes sense. When they’re broadcasting on a subscription based network better known for movies and more adult programming, it doesn’t make nearly much sense. Yes, the programs will eventually show up on PBS for at least the first five years of this deal but one wonders how long that will last. The reality, of course, is that Sesame is long been a profit-making enterprise rather than one devoted solely to the seemingly non-profit goals that it claims. Thanks to merchandising deals and other media ventures, the company has made vast amounts revenue from licensing Sesame Street characters and material for other purposes. As many critics of federal funding for PBS have noted, none of this money ends up being recycled into public broadcasting. Of course, thanks to shows like Downton Abbey, PBS itself is finding that non-government sources of funding are quite lucrative, which raises the question of why they need the subsidy to begin with. This is especially true given that fact that federal funding amounts to less than 15% of PBS’s annual funding,
I’m sure this will be a very profitable deal for both Sesame Workshop and HBO. While the terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed yet, They most assuredly somewhere in the eight figure range, if not higher. Additionally, the prospect of news audiences will lead to at least some new subscribers for HBO and more lucrative marketing deals for Sesame Workshop. Perhaps the most valuable thing to come from the deal, though, will be that will puncture the conceit that there really is anything “public” about public broadcasting anymore.