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With Sesame Go, Sesame Street Finds a Home Online

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For such a gentle, low-key place, Sesame Street is surprisingly cutting-edge. The biggest stars in Hollywood regularly drop by, and the producers turn those visits into viral videos. Now, Sesame Street has joined the online video revolution in a big way with the launch of Sesame Go.

Like Netflix or the WWE Network, Sesame Go is a subscription video-on-demand service that lets members stream all they want for a set price. The price is low -- $3.99 per month or $29.99 per year -- and the selection is limited. So far, the service has around 200 episodes of content split between Sesame Street and another children’s show, Pinky Dinky Doo. The Sesame Street content mostly consists of episodes from the past 8 years, but there’s a selection of classic episodes from the show’s 45-year history.

Sesame Workshop’s decision to create a Netflix for the pre-K set might have surprised some. After all, Sesame Street already has a thriving YouTube channel where it could post all the content it wants. Why go the commercial route for a show regularly watched over public television?

For one thing, the people behind Sesame Street wanted to build a direct relationship with their audience.

“We had that to some degree on our platforms like our website, but in most cases, we don’t,” says Scott Chambers, senior vice president of worldwide media distribution at Sesame Workshop. “In most cases we go through distributors or aggregators or through partners, like PBS, and it’s PBS or even the local PBS stations that maintain that direct relationship. So first and foremost, we wanted to build -- or start -- a direct dialog and relationship with our audience that would inform what we’re doing and help us to learn the kinds of content experiences that they’d prefer.”

OTT Sesame

The roots of what would become Sesame Go reach back 2 years, when the Sesame Workshop team started thinking about over-the-top video delivery and how they could use new technology platforms to stream long-form video directly to their audience. Evaluating providers and their solutions took Sesame Workshop about a year and a half, so Sesame Go wasn’t an overnight creation.

Kaltura co-founder and chief revenue officer Shay David says Sesame Workshop opened a formal request for proposal (RFP) in a search for new distribution and a way to engage with its audience in a manner that made business sense. Sesame Workshop eventually chose Kaltura.

“What they wanted was to find a new system to centralize video management and to be able to find new modes of content distribution in a way that allows them to reach more audiences and engage those audiences in a way that they can make money,” David says.

Kaltura answered the RFP by pitching its MediaGo platform, a controlled solution for content owners that want to stream directly to their audiences. MediaGo, which Kaltura refers to as “Netflix in a box,” includes a set of tools that let content owners centralize content management and control video monetization.

MediaGo was a hit with Sesame Workshop from the start, David says. While MediaGo has an open source version, Sesame Workshop wasn’t interested. Still, going with a solution with an open platform product version meant that there was a developer community supporting it now and, in the future. Sesame Workshop also liked the out-of-the-box nature of MediaGo, meaning that it didn’t need a lot of customization to become operational.

Instead, the customization Sesame Workshop needed was more about the interface, keeping it simple for young viewers. The UI needed to be easy, with big buttons and a minimum of clutter. The Sesame Go interface can work without text, although viewers who want longer descriptions can find them by clicking “More Info” on their selection.

“Sesame is just not your average media company, right?” David says. “It’s a company that’s an interesting media use case because they also have an educational mission and the capability to stay true to that educational mission and make sure that the product meets educational standards, usability standards, and is particularly designed to work with kids. That was very important for them.”

Once Sesame Workshop selected MediaGo, the entire process of creating Sesame Go took only three months, with no major hassles. The process included altering the UI for young viewers, testing the results with focus groups, and refining the product until it felt just right.

An outgrowth of Sesame Street producers’ desire to build a direct relationship with the show’s audience, Sesame Go offers unlimited streaming of the show and Pinky Dinky Doo for $3.99 a month or $29.99 a year.

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Producers of the widely revered children’s series, “Sesame Street,” have revolutionized more than just educational programming – they have also become innovators in content management.

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