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HBO Picks Up ‘Sesame Street’ As Kids’ Viewing Habits Change

For “Sesame Street,” a new road leads to HBO.

The Time Warner pay-cable service said it would license the next five seasons of the venerable program, which has taught preschoolers for decades about numbers, letters, emotional development and the joys of a rubber ducky. The series has become a mainstay of the American cultural experience, and has often served as one of the first pieces of video entertainment experienced by the nation’s tykes.

New episodes will begin airing on HBO as early as late fall. And there will be more of them: HBO will air twice as many “Sesame” episodes in a season than has been the recent norm, lifting the number produced to 35.

Sesame Street” will still appear on PBS, which has aired the program since 1969. But new episodes will first appear on HBO, and then be provided to PBS after nine months.  It was disclosed yesterday that PBS would run only half-hour episodes of “Sesame Street” in the fall, as opposed to a full hour – which has been the norm for years.

Under the pact, Sesame Workshop, the producer of the series, will also produce a Sesame Street Muppet spinoff series for HBO, and develop a new original educational series for children. HBO will also license more than 150 old episodes of Sesame Street,and approximately 50 past episodes of  two other series from Sesame Workshop: “Pinky Dinky Doo,” an animated program focused on literacy, and “The Electric Company,” a 2009 reboot of a series that was another PBS hallmark.

The move is certain to raise eyebrows: Should Grover, Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus be placed behind a paywall? At the heart of the transaction, however, are radically shifting dynamics in the way kids consume video and the manner in which companies get paid for them doing so.

PBS has for years funded only 10% of the series’ production. The rest was provided by Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization once known as Children’s Television Workshop, and that money was typically secured through licensing, of course, but also from revenues associated with the sale of DVDs. In a world where more kids are accustomed to accessing their video favorites through streaming video and subscription on demand services, those monies had become crimped.

“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 “Sesame Street,” in a prepared statement.  “In order to fund our nonprofit mission with a sustainable business model, Sesame Workshop must recognize these changes and adapt to the times.”

For HBO, acquisition of the program and other content from Sesame Workshop is key in its push to establish itself not only as a premium video outlet distributed by cable and satellite providers, but also as a stand-alone broadband service that vie for subscriber dollars with rivals like Netflix and Amazon. Kids’ content is one of the biggest drivers of consumers picking up subscription-video-on-demand services. HBO also runs a cable outlet devoted to kids and family programming that is typically bundled with its flagship network.

“Sesame Street” is  “the most important preschool education program in the history of television,” said Richard Plepler, chief executive of HBO, in a statement. “We are delighted to be a home for this extraordinary show, helping ‘Sesame Street’ expand and build its franchise.”

PBS said its viewers would continue to see the program with which it has been associated for so long, but noted that “Sesame Street” was one of a bevy of series it distributes to kids, along with “Curious George” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” PBS began last year experimenting with a 30-minute format for “Sesame Street, the network said in a statement, noting,”We have worked closely with Sesame Workshop to monitor its success since then, and jointly decided to transition to the half-hour format this fall.”

Sesame Workshop’s partnership with HBO “does not change the fundamental role PBS and stations play in the lives of families,” the network said. Some families, however, may begin to associate “Sesame Street” with another outlet in the not-too-distant future.

 

 

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