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‘Sesame Street’ is headed to … HBO?

August 17th, 2015


If you remember the old adage, “It’s not TV, it’s H-B-O” — folks trot it out when they want to talk about how TV has grown more HBO-like over the last decade. But with today’s announcement that HBO is the new home of Sesame Street, the cable network is becoming a lot more TV-like.

It may be weird to imagine Big Bird feathering his nest on the same channel where other HBO characters beat strippers to death regularly, or behead children, but this isn’t HBO’s first foray into kid’s TV. It’s so successfully branded itself as the home of sophisticated adult entertainment that it’s easy to overlook the fact that it has a catalog of about 200 episodes of family programming—going all the way back to “Fraggle Rock.” (Yup, that was HBO). But this does represent a milestone for HBO in another sense: It marks the first time it has acquired rights to an existing broadcast series, rather than developing its own from scratch.

From one angle, the decision to acquire Sesame Street was a no-brainer. There is a huge demand for family entertainment on streaming video services; Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, desperately needed a cash infusion; and it represented a chance for the network to associate with one of the most prestigious children’s-entertainment brands in the world.

Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president of programming, says this deal doesn’t herald a broader campaign to snap up other existing series. “Sesame Street is a rare and iconic children’s series in the history of television,” he says. “I never say never but I can’t think of any other show that we would be interested in bringing over from another network.”1 Still, it’s hard not to see this as a landmark moment in the television industry.

Streaming services to date have targeted passionate niche audiences. We’ve already seen Netflix reboot Arrested Development, or Hulu pick up the Mindy Project—cult hits that failed to attract a broadcast-sized following. HBO led this business model, positioning itself from the very beginning as a haven for cultural elitists whose refined tastes demanded uniquely sophisticated programming. But it’s hard to get more mass-market than Sesame Street. It is arguably the most-watched, most important program in television history, one of the medium’s defining endeavors, a touchstone for millions of people around the world.

Sesame Street will still air on PBS—after a nine-month delay—so it’s not as if the program is vanishing entirely behind a paywall. But today’s announcement is a harbinger. The streaming model won’t just be for re-runs and specialized content. It’s coming for all of us.

Categories: Channels & Shows

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