As Sesame Street enters 2019 and approaches its 50th anniversary, the show looks nothing like its humble beginnings. More than 4,000 episodes later, Sesame Street’s home is premium cable, not public broadcasting. Throughout its history, Sesame Street has leaned toward being adaptable. While its partnership with HBO was much to the chagrin of some supporters, the decision has made the show more financially stable. What does Sesame Street’s strategy reveal about partnerships? What lessons can be learned from the show’s evolution in the digital space?
Read more about Sesame Street’s history in the timeline below.
Children’s Television Workshop co-founder pitches Sesame Street to major network TV stations (NBC/CBS). They passed on the show.
Sesame Street premieres on November 10th on NET, the predecessor to PBS. The budget is $8 million over the first six months. Half of the money is coming from large foundations such as Ford and Carnegie. The other half is provided through federal funding, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Office of Education.
Nine million children under age six watch Sesame Street every day; the audience is especially strong in inner cities.
Sesame Street’s funding model shifts away from federal grants. More than half of the funding comes from licensing and distribution, through toys, books, movies and other products.
77% of all U.S. preschoolers watch Sesame Street at least once a week.
In January, Sesame Street launches its YouTube channel.
In March, Sesame Street tops 1 billion YouTube views. The most popular video is Elmo’s song, with 87 million views.
In April, Sesame Workshop launches Sesame Go, an on-demand channel with hundreds of full episodes; the cost structure is $3.99 per month, or $29.99 per year, for ad-free access on any device.
In August, “Sesame Street” announces a five-year deal with HBO. New episodes are available still available on PBS after a nine-month delay, free of charge. The goal of the partnership is to bring in critical funding to keep Sesame Street running. Without the partnership, less than 10% of the money comes from the show. The rest comes through avenues like DVD sales, which are dwindling.
In May, Sesame Workshop launches Sesame Studios, a new YouTube channel; the format was digital short videos, ranging from 30 seconds to five minutes.
As speculation surfaces over cuts to CPB/PBS, Sesame Workshop notes it receives no funding from those entities. Meanwhile, the company moves forward with IBM to explore machine learning techniques for teaching vocabulary.
In April, Sesame Street’s theme park earns the world’s first autism certification, creating safe spaces for children. The show also announces its first-ever crowdfunding campaign — toward bullying prevention. The fundraising goal is $75,000.
The United States Postal Service releases 50th anniversary Sesame Street “forever” stamps to celebrate the show.
Want to learn more about how the Sesame Street brand has thrived for 50 years amid an evolving media landscape? Refer to pgs. 149-151 in The Strategic Digital Media Entrepreneur to learn more.
Sources for Sesame Street Timeline: