Right off the bat, I want to apologize for using the term “outrage culture” in the headline because I really don’t want to sound like Todd Phillips, Shane Gillis, or the seemingly endless buffet of assholes who are mad that they can’t just fire off lazy slurs and be treated like comedy gods. That said, I don’t know what other term to use that encapsulates the amount of super dumb reactions to Sesame Street moving to HBO Max thanks to online writers not doing a scant two seconds of Googling before firing off sloppy headlines with equally sloppy reporting. If I seem extremely salty it’s because this is how 2016 happened. Just a complete disregard for facts and reality because it doesn’t fit your narrative that Bernie will instantly turn the United States into a socialist utopia with the snap of his fingers, or Trump will get rid of all the gays and brown people just as quickly. Whichever flavor you were into at the time.
On that note, here are the facts: Sesame Street will continue to be free to watch on PBS. Absolutely nothing has changed since the original HBO deal from five years ago that not only saved Sesame Street but allowed it to create more episodes than ever, all of which freely flow to PBS and its PBS Kids app after nine months. Sesame Workshop specifically chose HBO because the network agreed to make sure low-income children still had access to its educational programming in accordance with its mission statement. In short, there has been no impact on a child turning on PBS and having free access to Big Bird and the gang. They’re still getting a mix of old and new episodes as has been the case for decades.
What’s happening now is that instead of new episodes of Sesame Street airing on HBO before hitting PBS, it’s airing on HBO Max. That’s it. — Well, not entirely, because it turns out HBO is bankrolling a slew of spinoffs including an Elmo talk show, all of which — holy shit — will air for free on PBS. How do I know this? I did two seconds of Googling and found this Deadline report with the full announcement. It’s almost like all of this is a good thing, but you wouldn’t know it if you’re one of the terrifying number of Americans getting their news from social media.
So let’s take a look at The Verge whose post is getting the most amount of traction and whose writer was retweeting just straight-up wrong takes before scrubbing her Twitter account over the weekend. Clearly, she knows that her headline is deliberately misleading — her own reporting contradicts it — but has it been corrected? Nope. Here’s the passage that’s still being repeated ad nauseam as if it’s the smoking gun of this whole debacle.
The new deal means parents will have to sign up for HBO Max in order to get access to new Sesame Street episodes as they air, according to Vulture. Episodes will air for free on PBS “at some point” after the episodes debut on HBO Max, Vulture reports, but WarnerMedia plans to use Sesame Street to build out its family content offerings.
For the record, despite putting “at some point” in quotes even though the time period is nine months like it’s been for the past five years, the episodes airing for free completely debunks The Verge’s headline. But this is the internet, so guess what 90% of people are only seeing and immediately reacting to: The headline, which looks like this on Twitter.
It also doesn’t help that The AV Club aggregated The Verge’s reporting, and then made it even more nefarious sounding by ignoring the glossed over part about PBS.
The big unanswered question here, though, is whether HBO Max—which pundits are speculating will launch at a $15 per month price point, same as its cable parent, making it one of the highest prices in the streaming market—will maintain HBO’s policy of allowing new episodes of Street to eventually migrate over to PBS (currently available, to everybody, at a rather non-competitive $0 per month level).
Jesus Christ. No, it is not a “big unanswered question” because, again, HBO has specifically said that new episodes of both Sesame Street and whatever spinoffs it produces will air for free on PBS. It’s not like you have to sift through goddamn microfiche to find that information. There’s a literal computer in your pants that will serve it to you in a matter of seconds.
The problem here is that “Sesame Street moving to HBO Max is great news for PBS viewers” isn’t as sexy a headline and/or take as “EVIL CAPITALIST NETWORK TAKES BIG BIRD HOSTAGE IN STREAMING WAR.” Once that narrative took hold, welcome to goddamn Galaxy Brain City. It also doesn’t help that not only is no one educating themselves on the basic fundamentals of the Sesame Workshop/HBO deal before hitting “Send Tweet,” but there’s clearly a vast misconception about how Sesame Street has been beamed into TVs for almost half a century. You’d think you’d want to look into the broad strokes before pontificating on the supposedly villainous move by HBO, but that would make the internet a less festering poophole of dumb.
In a nutshell, there appears to be a narrative out there that Sesame Street has been mostly if not fully funded by the federal government through PBS for decades, which benevolently passed it out for free until HBO came in and Fern Gully’d the place or whatever. Not even close. Sesame Workshop, formerly known as Children’s Television Workshop, had been fighting off a severe lack of federal funds since the ’70s. There was a very, very tiny window when the government was helping out, but without seed money from — this should melt some brains — Carnegie Steel or Ford Motor Company, Sesame Street would’ve never happened. So the solution to this problem was to rely on merchandising, which Sesame Workshop reluctantly and painstakingly started licensing because it didn’t want to exploit its child audience. Every dollar was poured back into the show, and that’s what kept it alive for decades albeit tenuously. DVDs were a huge boon for a while, but when streaming took hold, the shit hit the fan as those sales tanked, and HBO stepped in and essentially saved the show from extinction.
Of course, if you mention any correct information during the current discourse, here’s the type of reaction you’ll get:
Whoops! You ate the entire boot!! You're just supposed to lick it!!— Drackadillo (@Grackadillo) October 3, 2019
Please kill me.
On that note, here are some viral tweets that are still up and reached tens of thousands of users. A fun thing to do is watch how the OP reacts when it’s pointed out to them that either Sesame Street is and will continue to be free to watch on PBS or that it’s relied on capitalism since the jump. The go-to response is almost always, “Well, it’s super messed up that there’s a tiered level of content for the rich,” which is a f*cking insane thing to say. We’re talking about Sesame Street here, a show predominantly watched by toddlers. You can put them in front of an episode from 1999 or 2019, and they won’t give a shit as long as Elmo has mail. I have kids of my own, and I could’ve bulldozed the entire living room without them blinking an eye if that little red bastard was on. But go off on kings and queens.
I mean, Christ, this tweet is just flat out wrong in every possible way, so naturally, it has the most interactions of them all.
HBO locking streaming access to fifty fucking seasons of Sesame Street—all funded by taxpayer dollars!—into their for-profit subscription service should absolutely not be legal.— Scott Satan (@ScottMadin) October 4, 2019
And here are a bunch of other bad takes that just completely ignore that Sesame Street will still be free to watch on PBS. Some of these people are journalists who should honestly know better.
this really sucks and is gross. and we all wonder why little kids are watching so much free garbage on youtube https://t.co/HI2IVEIp8u— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) October 3, 2019
Can you tell me how you get to Sesame Street? Well kids, first you climb the paywall! https://t.co/rKWrI8UyGK— roxane gay (@rgay) October 4, 2019
Re-nationalize Sesame Street. https://t.co/i0A8MQXNgN— Puff the Magic Hater (@MsKellyMHayes) October 4, 2019
You could write a pretty good history of neoliberalism using the privatization of “Sesame Street,” a longtime public good, as a case study. https://t.co/qKkP0luVZU— David Walsh (@DavidAstinWalsh) October 4, 2019
The thing is though, sesame Street was a place for kids in low income houses and families who couldn’t afford premium cable to get an education & to learn the importance of joy and how to keep it when things didn’t make sense. I’m sad for the kids who won’t have that now. https://t.co/prPA4bgSsr— Keah Boo 👻 Brown (@Keah_Maria) October 4, 2019
Kids will have it now. It says it right in the poorly headlined article you just tweeted. Goddammit.
Header Image Source: Sesame Workshop