Sesame Street Moving to HBO. A Nail in the Coffin for PBS?

 

Bert_and_ErnieFor the next five seasons, new episodes of Sesame Street will run first on HBO (and its online partners), then on PBS nine months later. As part of the deal, PBS gets the show for free.

So, is this 1) simply a creative funding arrangement for PBS; 2) a nail in the coffin for PBS’ very existence; or 3) best yet — and my personal opinion — yet more proof that PBS does not need federal subsidies to stay alive and stay “public”?

For those of you still scratching your head over this partnership, it makes perfect sense from a business perspective. Though Sesame Street received funding from PBS, that money amounted to less than 10 percent of the funding needed to produce the series. The remaining cash was procured through licensing revenue from DVD and merchandise sales. However, as more and more people turn to streaming and VOD services, fewer and fewer people are purchasing the physical media which used to be Sesame Workshop’s bread and butter. According to The New York Times, approximately two-thirds of children who currently watch Sesame Street do so on demand rather than watching on PBS. Naturally, if we want more Oscar the Grouch in our lives, Sesame Workshop had to find alternate ways of financing his high-rolling, trash-dwelling lifestyle.

There are 86 comments.

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  1. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Finally. A savvy producer will green light all that puppet-on-puppet action we’ve been waiting for for forty years.
    And the CTW agenda can finally be revealed in graphic, post-transitional, fully functional puppetry.
    Progress, Comrades! PROGRESS!

    • #1
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:05 PM PDT
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  2. Percival Thatcher

    But… but… Sesame Street cannot survive without federal subsidies!

    You are gonna kill Big Bird!

    • #2
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:06 PM PDT
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  3. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Bert and Ernie will finally enjoy the closest union possible. They will fuse their puppet bodies into one –Bernie!
    (Somebody PLEASE throw a Bernie Sandwrs shot here, wild hair and bug eyes…)

    • #3
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:07 PM PDT
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  4. Gary McVey Contributor

    PBS likes to compare itself to channels like Bravo, the Learning Channel, Discovery and Disney, but aside from its politics, which alone could easily fill fifteen posts, the PBS business model is desperately obsolete. Bravo and Disney don’t insist on maintaining expensive studios and control rooms, with elaborate union work rules, in every city that receives their signal; they just send it out from one satellite earth station. Discovery and TLC don’t pay to have 600 terrestrial transmitters pounding out their signal.

    PBS was designed to have weak central leadership, and it has consistently lived up to that hope; it’s neither a lean, diversified operation, nor a focused, bottom line one. The member stations and the network have an adversarial relationship; the “producing” stations, like Boston, New York and Washington, rarely condescend to understand the needs and audiences of the heartland PBS outlets. This isn’t unique to PBS, but CBS (for example) doesn’t have to please anyone but boss Leslie Moonves and his stockholders. PBS is forced to try to appease everybody.

    You can support the idea of local, smalltime educational programming without supporting a corrupt, entitled power structure, but the system makes it as hard as possible to disentangle them.

    • #4
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:13 PM PDT
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  5. Aaron Miller Member

    Nothing says “Limited government is a pipe dream” like the unwillingness of a Republican-majority Congress to cut a profitable TV show from taxpayer subsidies.

    Seriously, that legislative episode belongs in the history books.

    • #5
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:16 PM PDT
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  6. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    [Voice over with snips of steamy suggestive video fading through mostly black]

    Ever wonder what goes on behind all those closed doors… On Sesame Street?

    • #6
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:18 PM PDT
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  7. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    [Muffled voice from under the covers]
    “Three! Ah-ha-haa!”

    • #7
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:25 PM PDT
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  8. blank generation member Inactive

    A liberal friend of mine is always surprised that I don’t like The News Hour. I’ve said the only interesting thing to do while watching it is Google the people being interviewed and figure out which Washington think tank they are working for. Besides the first 5-10 minutes of advertising, oops, sorry, sponsorship.

    • #8
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:27 PM PDT
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  9. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly Post author

    blank generation member:A liberal friend of mine is always surprised that I don’t like The News Hour…

    Not even when Bob MacNeil was still alive?

    Oh wait, he’s still alive. He simply knew to get out while the getting was good.

    • #9
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:34 PM PDT
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  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Ball Diamond Ball:Bert and Ernie will finally enjoy the closest union possible.They will fuse their puppet bodies into one –Bernie!

    Not Erbert?

    • #10
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:40 PM PDT
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  11. Gary McVey Contributor

    To be fair, before cable news hit it big, PBS was the place for shows like “The McLaughlin Group”, “Wall Street Week”, and two shows that we now consider biased, but didn’t always: “NewsHour” and “Washington Week in Review”.

    Bluntly, they have two programming specialties: innocuous liberal or mainstream shows for pledge week–that’s when they run documentaries about Jerusalem or the Andrews Sisters–and being America’s channel for civil rights history and white guilt, the real mission it truly has its heart in.

    • #11
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:41 PM PDT
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  12. Judge Mental Member

    Gary McVey:To be fair, before cable news hit it big, PBS was the place for shows like “The McLaughlin Group”, “Wall Street Week”, and two shows that we now consider biased, but didn’t always: “NewsHour” and “Washington Week in Review”.

    Bluntly, they have two programming specialties: innocuous liberal or mainstream shows for pledge week–that’s when they run documentaries about Jerusalem or the Andrews Sisters–and being America’s channel for civil rights history and white guilt, the real mission it truly has its heart in.

    I think the last thing I watched on PBS was I, Claudius sometime in the late 70’s.

    • #12
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:44 PM PDT
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  13. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly Post author

    Gary McVey:To be fair, before cable news hit it big, PBS was the place for shows like “The McLaughlin Group”, “Wall Street Week”, and two shows that we now consider biased, but didn’t always: “NewsHour” and “Washington Week in Review”.

    Bluntly, they have two programming specialties: innocuous liberal or mainstream shows for pledge week–that’s when they run documentaries about Jerusalem or the Andrews Sisters–and being America’s channel for civil rights history and white guilt, the real mission it truly has its heart in.

    Don’t neglect the fact that it was PBS that broadcast Firing Line and Free To Choose.

    • #13
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:49 PM PDT
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  14. blank generation member Inactive

    Gary McVey:To be fair, before cable news hit it big, PBS was the place for shows like “The McLaughlin Group”, “Wall Street Week”, and two shows that we now consider biased, but didn’t always: “NewsHour” and “Washington Week in Review”.

    Bluntly, they have two programming specialties: innocuous liberal or mainstream shows for pledge week–that’s when they run documentaries about Jerusalem or the Andrews Sisters–and being America’s channel for civil rights history and white guilt, the real mission it truly has its heart in.

    I hate it when people are fair. Siskel and Ebert got their start there too. Huge show. Not to mention all those celebrity chef shows. I always am fond of the production of I Claudius. There was a good segment on The News Hour with science reporter Miles O’Brien on prosthetic devices.

    I suppose I don’t see why they need to get public financing. Which is the point of the OP.

    • #14
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:50 PM PDT
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  15. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly Post author

    Judge Mental:

    Gary McVey:To be fair, before cable news hit it big, PBS was the place for shows like “The McLaughlin Group”, “Wall Street Week”, and two shows that we now consider biased, but didn’t always: “NewsHour” and “Washington Week in Review”.

    Bluntly, they have two programming specialties: innocuous liberal or mainstream shows for pledge week–that’s when they run documentaries about Jerusalem or the Andrews Sisters–and being America’s channel for civil rights history and white guilt, the real mission it truly has its heart in.

    I think the last thing I watched on PBS was I, Claudius sometime in the late 70′s.

    You didn’t watch the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series?

    • #15
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:50 PM PDT
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  16. EJHill Podcaster

    Misthiocracy: Not even when Bob MacNeil was still alive?

    Robert McNeil would never answer to “Bob.” His nickname is Robin. (Must be a Canadian thing.)

    • #16
    • August 14, 2015, at 7:55 PM PDT
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  17. MarciN Member

    Romney suggested that public television could and should be self-supporting, and he got hammered for it.

    Another issue Romney was right about.

    On the other hand, HBO is disgusting, and I wouldn’t want it in my home. And I definitely wouldn’t have wanted it when my kids were little. So by selling out to HBO, is PBS ensuring that many kids will now get exposed to mega-smut in order to watch Sesame Street six months before it airs on PBS?

    These people don’t care about the kids.

    Sigh.

    I can’t believe the personnel can’t survive on the salaries generated by the Children’s Television Workshop and its many programs and royalties. They should be just covering salaries, not making profits.

    • #17
    • August 14, 2015, at 8:07 PM PDT
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  18. Jimmy Carter Member

    A number of years ago, during one of Their pledge drives, I called ’em up and said,”I’ll be happy to help. Put Me down for 50 bucks. I’ll send Ya a check.”

    “Oh, wonderful! Thank You! And You’ll be receiving a two cd set of Mart Robbins for Yer donation. Can I get some information?”

    “Sure!” And I gave Them a Friend’s name, address, cell number, work info.

    A few weeks later He’s telling Me,”You won’t believe the phone calls and the mail I’ve been getting from PBS. I have no idea how or why I’m on Their mailing list.”

    • #18
    • August 14, 2015, at 8:08 PM PDT
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  19. Gary McVey Contributor

    PBS hasn’t had an honest to God homegrown hit since Ken Burns’ “The Civil War”, which incredibly is now 25 years ago. Anything that’s flickered occasionally into the nation’s consciousness since then has been acquired from overseas, like “Downton Abbey”.

    There are plenty more channels now (for a while, PBS huffed that they were all “Copycats”, like they had a natural monopoly on documentaries and public affairs), so to be fair even the commercial ones can’t command the share they did a generation ago. “Big Bang Theory”, CBS’s biggest hit, has nowhere near the national audience share that “All in the Family” did for the same network 45 years ago. But the collapse of the PBS audience has been epic by any standard. Compare the market failure of PBS to the market success of an equally liberal, equally non-profit and intellectual broadcasting system, NPR. Let’s be honest: NPR is probably the smartest outlet the Left has. They do a pretty damn good job, and the audience numbers prove it. PBS and NPR apeal to roughly the same group of people. But one’s a has-been, and one’s still a contender in the age of podcasting. Why?

    • #19
    • August 14, 2015, at 8:45 PM PDT
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  20. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    HBO is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party so it’s a good fit.

    • #20
    • August 14, 2015, at 8:47 PM PDT
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  21. Pencilvania Inactive

    BDB, you must have been at the script readings. While that stuff might not be on Sesame Street, it’ll undoubtedly be on the new ‘more adult’ Muppet tv show coming this fall to ABC primetime.

    You heard a few weeks ago, the story about Kermit & Miss Piggy breaking up, didn’t you? Evidently warm, loving relationships don’t even last amongst the fuzzy. You can’t have a swinging primetime show about a frog if he’s hitched to an old ball & chain!

    But don’t worry, Muppets Inc. will hold the kiddies’ hands and sing songs as they walk them from Sesame Street up to Wisteria Lane.

    • #21
    • August 14, 2015, at 8:54 PM PDT
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  22. Gary McVey Contributor

    Biggest public broadcast scam of the past decade is one of those infrastructure projects that doesn’t show to the public, but is incredibly lucrative, like the water department in “Chinatown”: a huge conversion fund for local stations to buy digital transmitters in the mass frequency conversion of 2009. Since the early part of the Fund coincided with the years when digital HDTV was finally becoming popular, most stations helped themselves to new studios. There’s plenty the public doesn’t know about the Digital Conversion Fund. Too bad we won’t see an expose on PBS.

    • #22
    • August 14, 2015, at 9:25 PM PDT
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  23. EJHill Podcaster

    Public Broadcasting is like the state funded opera houses of Europe: Ordinary people who pay taxes don’t partake but are supposed to feel good that it exists.

    Has PBS ever had a home grown scripted series? I know they have a Civil War drama slated for next year.

    • #23
    • August 14, 2015, at 9:27 PM PDT
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  24. Gary McVey Contributor

    Here’s my Attila the Hun plan: dump the local stations, almost all of them. Stop federal support and earnestly get across the idea that a politically neutral feed of PBS programming will be continue to be provided for, say three years, but the stations will not be exclusive; it will also go out “over the top” as an internet channel, like HBO Go. Cities whose communities are sufficiently wealthy and extravagant to continue to support local transmission of programs that any 13 year old with a smartphone can see simultaneously for free can do so, with no further Federal $. Pledge drives will disappear with the local stations, replaced by internet. Federally supplied equipment can be auctioned off to local groups that want it.

    • #24
    • August 14, 2015, at 9:30 PM PDT
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  25. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly Post author

    Gary McVey:Here’s my Attila the Hun plan: dump the local stations, almost all of them. Stop federal support and earnestly get across the idea that a politically neutral feed of PBS programming will be continue to be provided for, say three years, but the stations will not be exclusive; it will also go out “over the top” as an internet channel, like HBO Go. Cities whose communities are sufficiently wealthy and extravagant to continue to support local transmission of programs that any 13 year old with a smartphone can see simultaneously for free can do so, with no further Federal $. Pledge drives will disappear with the local stations, replaced by internet. Federally supplied equipment can be auctioned off to local groups that want it.

    a) Simply stop subsidizing ’em. Some of ’em will survive, others won’t.

    I’ve been a fan of the local programming done by Mountain Lake Public Television, out of Plattsburg NY.

    That particular station does very well because it gets plenty of donations … from viewers in Montreal.

    b) I cannot agree more that there is little-to-zero need, in an age when even consumer-grade HD cameras are so good, for local PBS stations to have their own expensive studios with union staff.

    A way better use of funds would be to monitor YouTube for local folk producing quality content and then hiring them on contract to produce longer-format pieces.

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hitRECord project is a good model.

    • #25
    • August 14, 2015, at 9:47 PM PDT
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  26. Jules PA Member

    Aaron Miller:Nothing says “Limited government is a pipe dream” like the unwillingness of a Republican-majority Congress to cut a profitable TV show from taxpayer subsidies.

    Seriously, that legislative episode belongs in the history books.

    PBS is just another life-time welfare mom, with multiple kids, demanding its dole.

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    • August 14, 2015, at 9:50 PM PDT
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  27. Jules PA Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Ball Diamond Ball:Bert and Ernie will finally enjoy the closest union possible.They will fuse their puppet bodies into one –Bernie!

    Not Erbert?

    Rainbow Sherbert?

    • #27
    • August 14, 2015, at 9:51 PM PDT
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  28. Jules PA Member

    blank generation member:

    Gary McVey:To be fair, before cable news hit it big, PBS was the place for shows like “The McLaughlin Group”, “Wall Street Week”, and two shows that we now consider biased, but didn’t always: “NewsHour” and “Washington Week in Review”.

    Bluntly, they have two programming specialties: innocuous liberal or mainstream shows for pledge week–that’s when they run documentaries about Jerusalem or the Andrews Sisters–and being America’s channel for civil rights history and white guilt, the real mission it truly has its heart in.

    I hate it when people are fair. Siskel and Ebert got their start there too. Huge show. Not to mention all those celebrity chef shows. I always am fond of the production of I Claudius. There was a good segment on The News Hour with science reporter Miles O’Brien on prosthetic devices.

    I suppose I don’t see why they need to get public financing. Which is the point of the OP.

    Isn’t this a case of technology opening the doors for others to create the product, and distribute it.

    The PBS network is a dinosaur.

    And I liked the cooking shows, and some other stuff.

    edit: I don’t have cable, and I live too far to get the air-signal for PBS. They don’t offer anything decent via their connection with Apple TV. So, I’m out of the loop anyway.

    • #28
    • August 14, 2015, at 9:54 PM PDT
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  29. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly Post author

    Jules PA: Isn’t this a case of technology opening the doors for others to create the product, and distribute it. The PBS network is a dinosaur.

    Yabbut, not any more so than all the other broadcast television networks.

    • #29
    • August 14, 2015, at 9:57 PM PDT
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  30. Manny Member

    Why would it be a nail in the coffin to PBS? Sounds like a good business decision to me.

    • #30
    • August 14, 2015, at 9:59 PM PDT
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