If you spent any time on Google, Twitter or Facebook this week you’re likely aware that Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th year on the air. Forty years is a long time, particularly in an industry like television, which has experienced radical innovation in the last four decades. Think about it for a moment – the field of special effects has advanced so much that even movies or shows that were shot a few years ago appear dated by today’s standards. Yet, for 40 years, Sesame Street has remained consistent, churning out educational programs for generations of children without changing the structure of its show.
Or has it?
In an article on the show’s anniversary National Geographic reporter Ker Than writes that, while some puppets and situations are familiar from year to year, Sesame Street has gradually altered its programming to keep up with the changing times. For example, this season marks the rollout of the program’s “Green Initiative,” where characters will emphasize the importance of caring for the environment and introduce viewers to the basic concepts of sustainable living. In another example, Sesame Street’s producers recently created DVDs for children with a family member deployed to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, or who had a parent disabled or handicapped in combat.
Sesame Street has also changed the characters and situations on its show to reflect the norms and cultures of the individual regions in which it airs. The South African version of the program features an HIV positive character and, in Bangladesh, a puppet named Tuktuki reminds viewers that girls can—and should—pursue the same opportunities as boys.
While the core of Sesame Street retains the overall theme and purpose it had when it first premiered in 1969, I think the intermittent changes it made to stay current are responsible for the show’s enduring popularity. It made me wonder, can we apply anything from Sesame Street’s legacy to our industry? What small tweaks can we make to our core business model to ensure we weather the current media storm in the same manner Sesame Street navigated the last 40 years?
I’m not sure what the answers are, but it’s definitely food for thought. In the meantime, happy anniversary Sesame Street, and may you have many more to come!
Contributed by Kate Finigan. Follow her @PRKateFin