It's Moving Day on Sesame Street... to HBO

Venerable PBS Kids Show Heads to 'It's Not TV' Land

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Credit: Courtesy of Sesame Workshop

As a cuddly, googly-eyed monster once memorably warbled, "'C' is for 'cookie,' and that's good enough for me." But a new partnership between HBO and Sesame Workshop plainly illustrates that in a rapidly evolving media universe, "C" also stands for "content"…and "change."

As part of a licensing deal forged by the premium cable TV network and the producers of "Sesame Street," HBO will carry first-run episodes of the venerable kids' program through 2020. The first episodes of "Sesame Street" funded by Time Warner's cable unit will begin airing on HBO later this fall.

While this marks the first time in "Sesame Street's" 46-year history that Cookie Monster, Grover and Oscar the Grouch will appear on a non-PBS outlet, the public broadcaster isn't losing the franchise. HBO's window of exclusivity for new installments of "Sesame Street" is nine months; after that term expires, the episodes will begin airing on PBS.

Not only is the licensing deal a boon to a cash-strapped Sesame Workshop, but it also gives fans of "Sesame Street" something to cheer about. HBO this season will run 35 new episodes, up from the 24 produced in 2014-15.

In addition to the flagship series, HBO also has agreed to back a "Sesame Street Muppets" spinoff and a new educational program.

While the "Sesame Street" gang gets ready to meet its new neighbors -- hopefully the grownups will keep Elmo and Big Bird away from that miserable "True Detective" crew -- PBS supporters will have to get used to the fact that new episodes of the iconic series is moving behind a pay wall. A radical change in the distribution model was all but inevitable, given the fundamental economics of producing "Sesame Street" and an ever-accelerating shift to on-demand viewing.

"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 "Sesame Street" co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney. "In order to fund our nonprofit mission with a sustainable business model, Sesame Workshop must recognize these changes and adapt to the times."

That a non-profit organization was able to produce 45 years of zeitgeist-defining television is remarkable. Contributions from PBS accounted for just 10% of Sesame Workshop's overall revenue.

Sesame Workshop research indicates that two-thirds of the current crop of preschoolers who watch "Sesame Street" do so on-demand. The wealth of streaming media available to the footie-pajamas set not only jibes with their preferred delivery vessels, but also destabilizes the old DVD-centric model upon which the producers of childrens' content have so long been dependent.

Kids will be able to stream the new episodes of "Sesame Street" via HBO Go and HBO Now.

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