With Sesame Go, Sesame Street Finds a Home Online

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While Sesame Go might seem like purely a business play to some -- a way to generate additional revenue from beloved characters -- the goal first and foremost was creating a two-way dialogue with the viewer. The rest of the goals were modest, Chambers says. Understanding what the audience wants is the primary goal, and beyond that the company is willing to take things one step at a time. One of the Sesame Workshop’s first moves will be adding more content to the service. There’s a list of potential content additions waiting in the wings, Chambers says, but before anything gets added the company wants to collect feedback from subscribers on what they (or their children) want to see.

Taking a Risk

The approach is cautious, but Sesame Workshop is far out ahead with Sesame Go, taking a risk on a service that’s anything but proven. While other TV series are posting a selection of videos on their websites or working with third-party second-screen apps, Sesame Street is gambling on something new. For Chambers, that willingness to take a risk on new technologies is all a part of the Sesame Street DNA.

“When we first launched back in 1969, even then we were leveraging what was a new mass media platform -- otherwise known as television -- but we wanted to use it in a way that nobody else had really tried to do before and that was to help educate young children,” Chambers says. “That general approach hasn’t changed in the last 45 years. We are constantly looking for new technologies, new media, new devices, new partners, and new platforms that will help us better accomplish our mission which is to get educational media into the hands of children and their caregivers, to try to better prepare them for success in life. So I would say that this is par for the course.”

At launch, Sesame Go was only available through web browsers. Through previous online efforts, Sesame Workshop learned that much of it audience uses Apple iOS devices, so the service was created to work especially well on iPads, iPhones, and Mac desktops and notebooks. It also runs on Windows computers and Android devices. The company plans to offer dedicated apps for Sesame Go, perhaps in 6 months or so. An iOS app will certainly be the first offering -- the company currently offers around 50 apps for different platforms, most of them for iOS -- but an Android app will follow. Sesame Workshop is also looking at apps for living room platforms such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

Sesame Go launched in April 2014, and Streaming Media conducted this interview about a month later. While Chambers wouldn’t go into specifics, he said the number of subscribers was still less than 1,000, but the conversion rate was strong: Between 1 and 4 percent of customers who learned more about the service became subscribers. Sesame Workshop has modest goals for the service, so it won’t be deemed a failure if subscriptions stay low for a while.

Besides adding to Sesame Go’s streaming inventory, Sesame Workshop is looking at other ways to grow the platform. For one thing, it might begin offering purchasable content, which would be accessible offline. Consider that Sesame Go doesn’t work on a plane, or that it needs a cellular connection to work on a car trip. Having offline content would let parents ensure they have some Sesame Street videos ready to go whenever they’re needed. Creating download-to-own offerings for iOS and Android devices is on the development list, Chambers says, and that will probably work within the Sesame Go interface.

That’s not all Sesame Workshop is planning. “We’ve also got content that we’ve either produced in the U.S., or maybe even outside of the U.S. -- foreign language content, productions of Sesame Street that you might not recognize because they don’t air in the U.S. -- and so we’ve got a list of possibilities,” Chambers says. “I would say another category might be short-form content. That would enable subscribers to guide their own way through a long-form Sesame Street experience. So, generally speaking, I think those are the areas that we’re looking at.”

While Sesame Go hasn’t proven itself yet, the people at Sesame Workshop are already thinking several steps ahead in how it might develop. While they’re teaching children about letters and social concepts, they’re also teaching the online video world about having a mission and taking chances.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Streaming Media as "With Sesame Go, Sesame Street Finds a Home Online."

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