Big Bird and Elmo, meet your rich new friend, Li’l Tyrion.
The non-profit producer of public television’s “Sesame Street” and HBO announced a unique and surprising partnership Thursday morning, in which the premium subscription network will air the next five seasons of the Emmy-winning, Muppet-populated educational series for children. New episodes of “Sesame Street” could start airing and streaming on HBO’s TV and Internet platforms as early as this fall.
Those new episodes of “Sesame Street” will continue to be available to PBS and its member stations, which have considered the show a mainstay of their schedules since it debuted in November 1969. The PBS stations will be able to air the show — now free of charge, HBO says — nine months after HBO airs them.
The deal is a boon to the non-profit Sesame Workshop (which until 2000 was known as the Children’s Television Workshop); with HBO’s financial backing, Sesame Workshop said it can produce almost twice as many episodes as it has in previous seasons, according to a joint statement from executives at both companies.
Sesame Workshop CEO Jeffrey D. Dunn said the deal “represents a true, winning public-private partnership model. It provides Sesame Workshop with the critical funding it needs to continue production of ‘Sesame Street’ and secure its non-profit mission of helping kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder.”
HBO Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler and HBO programming president Michael Lombardo said in a statement that the network is “[A]bsolutely thrilled to help secure the future of ‘Sesame Street’ and Sesame Workshop’s mission. … ‘Sesame Street’ is the most important preschool education program in the history of television. We are delighted to be a home for this extraordinary show and helping [it] expand and build its franchise.”
So what does this mean?
It almost certainly means that HBO, reaching about 36 million U.S. households via TV, has noticed how its rising competitors, such as Netflix and Amazon, are rapidly adding children’s programming to the adult-oriented original programs they offer their streaming customers. In its characteristic way, HBO seems to have gone for the most A-list, respected name in children’s programming. The network has added a number of ways to access its content via on-demand services and a new streaming service, HBO Now, that allows customers to get HBO without having to also pay for cable or satellite service.
(And lest anyone forget, there are traces of Muppet DNA in HBO’s family history: It aired 96 episodes of the late Jim Henson’s raucous, kinda-pop-psychological kids’ show “Fraggle Rock” in the 1980s.)
Public-TV fans who don’t subscribe to any of HBO’s services will still be able to see new episodes of “Sesame Street” on their local PBS stations and through the PBS Kids service, after a nine-month window for HBO to air the series exclusively. Thursday’s announcement also hinted at new projects from Sesame Workshop – including a spinoff series featuring “Sesame Street” characters.
“I’ve long admired the creative work of HBO and can’t think of a better partner to continue the quality of ‘Sesame Street,” one of the show’s original co-founders, Joan Ganz Cooney, said in a statement provided by HBO. “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. In order to fund our non-profit mission with a sustainable business model, Sesame Workshop must recognize these changes and adapt to the times.”
The deal also gives HBO the license to around 50 past episodes of two other Sesame Workshop shows – “Pinky Dinky Doo,” an animated series geared toward early literacy for preschoolers, and “The Electric Company,” another public-TV classic that got a reboot in 2009.