Sesame Street has been a staple for generations of children as the iconic show sets to begin its 46th season; however, something will be very different for the show this time: it won’t be on PBS.
After years of being distributed by the Public Broadcasting Network, PBS, Sesame Street has been moved to HBO, the mega television network featuring hit shows like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and The Wire. So why exactly is the shift of a famous children’s television show from one network to another a problem? Because it marks the symbolic death of American public television and only furthers the divide between the kinds of resources children are exposed to based on their guardians’ financial situation. In other words, only those children whose parents are willing and can afford an HBO subscription will be able to keep up with the adventures of Big Bird and Elmo.
The situation, however, is not quite as bad as it seems to be though. HBO has essentially purchased distribution rights for the release of new episodes. What this means is that HBO will be the first to air the new episodes of Sesame Street while PBS will air those episodes after a nine month waiting period. To most television enthusiasts the idea of waiting nine months for the latest episode of a show after it’s already been released is unthinkable. But to the audience of Sesame Street, it honestly might not matter quite as much.
So even though PBS will still be airing new shows, albeit after several months, Sesame Street lives to see another day. But what this does point to are the lack of funds available for public education broadcasting.
This may be inevitable, however, as the advent of paid digital streaming services are quickly overtaking cable television. How then is a children’s show about colorful muppets supposed to remain stagnant in this exciting new era for television? While it may seem unavoidable that Sesame Street, along with numerous other shows for that matter, were susceptible to network changes, it is important to remember the intention behind creating Sesame Street and the platform on which it was deliberately chosen to be shown.
Children’s educational programs ought not be created and distributed solely for profit, but should ultimately aim at reaching households to utilize modernity to create a more enriching environment for children. Of course, educational programming should not replace other forms of learning, but rather, it does seem to be beneficial when supplemented with other forms of education.
The important thing to remember is that public broadcasting remains an option in this new wave of television. When it appears that nearly everyone is jumping onboard for a Netflix subscription and HBO GO, we must remain mindful of those children whose families may not be able to afford these enriching resources. This is not, of course, a call for every individual to be guaranteed the right to premium television; instead, it is merely a reminder that we enter dangerous territory when we try to privatize and commodify an American staple that benefitted generations of children, and may be one of the greatest uses of television since its conception.
While this shift from PBS to HBO may not have been the end of Sesame Street, it certainly points to the financial trouble the show found itself in, pointing to the fact that public television funding is increasingly diminishing and beloved shows aimed at enriching the social and educational lives of children may also be up in jeopardy unless we find a way to synthesize the dawn of a privatized digital transformation in television and the idea of ensuring accessibility of educational tools to every child.