Sesame Street finally joins the half-hour crowd
VIEWERS of Sesame Street are about to get a big lesson in how to divide in half and multiply by 150 per cent.
For nearly 45 years, the much-lauded PBS programme that teaches children the alphabet, social skills and how to count, has been an hour long, a stalwart holdout in an era of half-hour programmes.
But this autumn, in a nod to the realities of increased mobile and online viewing, and the heightened competition for pre-school viewers, PBS will begin broadcasting and streaming a half-hour version of Sesame Street.
PBS announced on Wednesday that the shorter version of the show would join PBS' afternoon line-up from Sept 1. In addition, select half-hour episodes will be streamed on the PBS website, mobile app and the PBS Roku channel.
It will be the first time that PBS has had the rights to stream more than clips of the show.
The traditional hour-long version of Sesame Street will continue to be broadcast in the morning, so the net effect will be 50 per cent more Sesame Street on PBS each day.
Use of the PBS Kids Video app has jumped sharply in the past year, even as PBS' broadcast ratings for its children's programming have slumped, PBS officials acknowledged.
For mobile viewing, "30 minutes is about as long as you can get", said Lesli Rotenberg, PBS' general manager of children's programming. "The hour-long show didn't lend itself as well to that."
Adding the half-hour to the broadcast line-up, she said, "is a great opportunity to expand its footprint".
Terry Fitzpatrick, chief content and distribution officer at Sesame Workshop, the producer of Sesame Street, said that, as an hour-long show, "it was always difficult to get the second play" on PBS' afternoon line-up, when more children are watching TV.
While older children tend to control which shows are watched in the afternoon, many households are pre-school-age only, and having a pre-schooler-targeted programme in that time slot will be "a great alternative for those kids", said Linda Simensky, PBS' vice-president of children's programming.
The half-hour Sesame Street will be a condensed version of the traditional show, with a "Street Story", "Word on the Street" and letter and number "dance breaks", but no features like "Elmo the Musical" or "Abby's Flying Fairy School". Mr Fitzpatrick said it would "still be hitting the whole-child curriculum".
Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston, said the addition of a half-hour Sesame Street appeared to be a response to the realities of today's media households.
"From the consumer standpoint, it's more useful," he said. A shorter version also corresponds better to pre-schoolers' attention spans, he said, adding that even if children are sitting in front of the hour-long show, "they zone out".