Monday 23 April 2018

Newsmaker - Bert and Ernie

Bert and Ernie
Bert and Ernie Newsdesk and Agencies

Bert and Ernie, the small screen's most dynamic duo (move over Nidge and Frano) are making the leap to potentially billions of even smaller screens after the maker of 'Sesame Street' struck a deal with HBO.

Time Warner's premium cable service HBO is better known for its adult shows like gangster classic 'The Sopranos' and hyper violent, bodice ripping, swords-and-sorcery series 'Game of Thrones', which is filmed partly in Northern Ireland.

But after making its mark by luring-in viewers by pushing-out boundaries, partnering with the educational puppets of Sesame Street is part of HBO's move to expand its audience.

Under pressure from the likes of Netflix, HBO is rushing to develop a more rounded offering that meets the TV needs of the whole family, from kids to culture-vultures.

It has now agreed a five-year deal with the not-for-profit educational group behind 'Sesame Street' that means newly-commissioned episodes of the children's favourite will be carried exclusively on HBO, HBO Go and, probably more importantly, on HBO Now, a media-streaming service.

The web-only service, introduced in April, competes with Amazon and with Netflix, which has been expanding its library of children's TV programming.

Advertisement-free, on demand, streaming services are increasingly popular with parents because of the greater control they offer over what children are watching. Streaming services are also popular with kids who regard it as natural to binge watch their favourite shows on tablets, rather than waiting to consume what TV schedulers serve up to them on the main broadcast networks.

As well as 'Sesame Street', the deal includes a spin-off of the more anarchic, less educational, Muppets, though the main Muppets, including Kermit the frog, Miss Piggy and their chums, have already signed a deal with Disney for a new series of that show.

The interest from two of the world's biggest media players in the late Jim Henson's puppets looks a like a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Technology and media platforms are shifting, but Henson's studio has been turning out multi-coloured fuzzy characters since its target audience's grandparents were in nappies.

Kermit made his TV debut in 1955, 'Sesame Street' hit screens in 1969 and 'The Muppet Show' was huge in the '70s.

HBO's unrivalled hype-machine means the coming years will be big for fur-balls, on screen and no doubt in-store. (Additional reporting Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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