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ITEM: Sesame Workshop has struck a five-year deal with HBO that will bring first-run episodes of Sesame Street exclusively to HBO and its streaming outlets starting in the fall.

The interwub is duly freaking out and making jokes about Sesame Street having tons more sex, violence and naughty words.



One chief criticism of the deal is that it allows HBO to have exclusive first run of the new episodes for nine months, after which PBS can run them for free, which means only "privileged" kids who can afford cable will be able to watch the new episodes when they first come out.

Personally, I’m not convinced this in itself is a big deal. I get that Sesame Street is supposed to be for everyone, but the deal doesn’t mean you have to be able to afford premium cable to watch it. PBS still gets to run it, and it’s not like kids who have to wait for the PBS version will be at an educational disadvantage over the rich kids. (Also, a good chunk of the average “new” Sesame Street episode is already repeated material.)

Cory Doctorow can go on all he wants about “trickle-down kids TV”, but it’s a bad analogy. Trickle-down economics is a promise (not a guarantee) that concentrated wealth will eventually find its way to your wallet. Sesame Street is not leaving PBS, and poor kids will definitely see the new material eventually. As for his assertion that it will affect poor kids’ self-esteem by teaching them that rich kids get privileges they don’t – well, maybe, if yr mission as a parent is to teach yr pre-schooler about social class divisions, the evils of socioeconomic injustice and how awful rich people are and why we should hate them. (Personally I think kindergarten is a little early to be teaching them about the 1% and “Corporations Are People”, but I’m not a parent, so I don’t claim to be an expert here.)

So yeah, I think people are making a bigger deal out of that nine-month exclusivity window than it probably is.

That argument also ignores/glosses over the fact that Sesame Workshop has been struggling financially recently, and ultimately needed a more reliable and stable source of funding to keep doing what it does. Fans may treasure Sesame Street as a public-funded resource for poor kids, but it was created at a time when TV was a much different industry than it is now. If Sesame Street is going to survive in an age where more and more people watch TV shows via mobile devices and apps rather than buying DVDs (which is where Sesame Workshop got the majority of its funding in recent years), the old-school public-funded strategy isn't enough to sustain it – not unless Congress quadruples CPB’s budget, which ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

For me, there are two other angles to the deal that could create far bigger problems than rich kids getting first dibs on new material:

1. Getting funding from a media corporation instead of public sources could result in pressure from HBO suits to make Sesame Street and/or its spinoffs more commercial (as opposed to educational).

2. The deal could revive efforts by Republicans to cut funding for CPB now that supporters fans can’t use Sesame Street’s cultural value as a defense to keep it going.

Both are fair points. HBO execs might be smart enough not to mess with a winning formula, but there’s no guarantee that some nitwit won’t try to mess with it in the name of maximum ROI. In theory the wrath of social media may correct any bad ideas, but I think there’s a good chance Sesame Street is going to undergo some changes at HBO – some favorable, perhaps; some otherwise.

As for CPB, supporters could always argue that PBS needs to keep going to ensure Sesame Street can be viewed by millions of households that can’t afford even basic cable TV, let alone premium, but I’m sure at least some GOP congressthings are salivating at the prospect of putting CPB back on the chopping block.

I for one would hate to see CPB go. I think there’s great value in non-commercial radio and TV programs, and that’s been demonstrated not only by PBS and NPR, but also in other countries like the UK and Japan. Let’s admit, the only reason some Republicans want to get rid of CPB is because they think it’s a liberal indoctrination tool (this from the people whose idea of “fair and balanced” is Fox News). That’s as dumb a reason for axing CPB as the idea that cutting it would reduce the deficit (by saving the country a whopping $445 million a year out of a budget of $3.8 trillion).

Developing …

Street cred,

This is dF


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