WASHINGTON • After 45 years on United States public television, Sesame Street is relocating to cable network HBO in a move its creators say will result in more new episodes of the beloved children's programme.
From this autumn, Sesame Street will run for five seasons on the pay TV channel and its Internet streaming options, its producer, the non-profit Sesame Workshop, said in a statement on Thursday.
"As a key part of the deal, Sesame (Workshop) will be able to produce almost twice as much new content as previous seasons," it said.
Once aired on HBO, episodes will be made available nine months later to the PBS public TV network - the show's home since its inception - free of charge.
Sesame Workshop said it will also produce "a Sesame Street Muppet spinoff series" and "a new original educational series for children".
For Sesame Workshop, the deal helps to alleviate funding pressures, especially since revenues from DVD sales have eroded. HBO also becomes a stronger force in children's TV.
Seasame Street has been introducing youngsters to letters, numbers and Muppet characters such as Elmo, Big Bird and Cookie Monster since 1969. With its international versions, it is said to reach more than 156 million children worldwide.
Industry experts said the move to HBO reflects changing viewing habits, with more children watching the show on demand and not at its scheduled broadcast time.
Still, the decision to air its new shows on a premium pay-TV service - and not free on PBS till months later - drew a backlash. On social media, hundreds of commentators said the arrangement with HBO created a perception of an economic class divide, with PBS favouring privileged children and jettisoning its commitment to less-advantaged ones, whom the show was originally aimed at.
Said Mr Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, a non- partisan education group that advocates responsible entertainment: "In order to watch original episodes of the most iconic children's programme in television history, parents are now forced to fork over about US$180 (S$253) per year and subscribe to the most sexually explicit, most graphically violent television network in America. I can't imagine a greater juxtaposition in television than this."
PBS, Sesame Workshop and HBO defended the partnership as a critical development necessary to continue to produce Sesame Street and further the show's objectives.
"No other media company believes that disadvantaged kids deserve the same shot as middle-class kids, and that remains important to us," said Mr Jeffrey D. Dunn, chief executive of Sesame Workshop. "We will have a couple of homes now. HBO will allow us to really capture the consumer shift, but we are not leaving linear TV."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES