Sesame Street is leaving PBS for HBO and cutting its running time to 30 minutes

Big Bird on a big channel.
Big Bird on a big channel.
Image: AP/John Duricka
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Sesame Street, long a staple of public television in the US, is moving to HBO.

The children’s TV show, which begins its 46th season this fall, announced that its next five seasons will be distributed exclusively on HBO; after a nine-month window, the episodes will be made available to PBS. (In the meantime, PBS will repurpose older episodes.) The show will also be available on HBO GO, HBO On Demand, and the newest service in the network’s suite of services, HBO NOW.

As part of the move, the number of episodes per season will double (to 35, up from 18), and the show will be shorter. Yesterday (Aug. 12) Current reported that the decision comes after the show’s parent non-profit, Sesame Workshop, piloted a half-hour version of its show last fall, which ran in the afternoon after the usual hour-long morning program. The success of the shorter program on TV tracked with growth on its digital platforms–the PBS Kids website, mobile app and Roku channel. Average monthly views rose 40% after the switch.

Since hitting a ratings peak in 2010, the show has been struggling to keep up with viewers’ migration to on-demand TV and a dip in licensing revenue from toy makers and DVD sales. According to the New York Times, two-thirds of Sesame Street viewers watch it on demand and not on PBS.

HBO NOW’s $15-a-month price tag may help right the show’s finances, but it could also price out lower-income families who can’t afford to pay. Those viewers will have to wait out the lag on PBS’s airings, perhaps with some Sesame Street-inspired patience.