Blogs & Comment

Winners & Losers: HBO nabs Sesame Street, Columbia House closes

If they bring back Deadwood, “C” will decidedly *not* be for “cookie”


Oscar would have fit right in on The Wire, though

Sesame Street gang

The news that HBO struck a five-year deal to air first-run episodes of Sesame Street brought out two main reactions in people. There were those on Twitter who, in a sad quest for retweets and favs, hilariously juxtaposed the content of HBO and Sesame Street—Bert and Ernie do True Detective pls RT!—and those who lamented the symbolism of a treasured program with egalitarian principles teaming up with a soulless corporation. The reality is this is a big deal for HBO. Children’s programming is a hot commodity. On Netflix, the category accounts for about 17% of the television shows in its library, and starting next year, Netflix will offer all first-run Disney movies after they leave theatres. Even YouTube launched a kid-centric app earlier this year. With Sesame Street, HBO has secured perhaps the most cherished name in kids’ entertainment for its cable channel and streaming service. The move has just as much to do with parents as it does children. With HBO’s online service, it’s easy for parents to cancel their subscriptions when their favourite series is on hiatus, and resubscribe later. But if kids are glued to Sesame Street year-round, parents won’t cancel. Best of all for HBO, the agreement means Sesame Street will no longer be available on Amazon or Netflix, making HBO the only place to see Cookie Monster contract a sexually transmitted disease on the next season of Girls. Pls RT.

 Columbia House

*record scratch sound*

Columbia House ad

In a development that’s shocking only in that it didn’t happen sooner, the company behind Columbia House filed for bankruptcy protection this week. Owner Filmed Entertainment Inc. admitted in bankruptcy court that it has little chance of competing, and that sales have been dropping for 20 straight years. Columbia House made its name by promising members a dozen CDs or so for a penny. Members were obligated to buy a certain number of albums at full price through the remainder of the year, however. Columbia House also mailed out a new CD each week, and charged customers if they forgot to send it back, which probably explains why so many people ended up with Color Me Badd in their collections. Revenue peaked at $1.4 billion in 1996, and fell just about every year after that, as Napster, file sharing, and, eventually, iTunes and iPods gained popularity. Columbia House got out of the music business entirely in 2010, and bet on the next big thing: DVDs by mail. It seemed not to care that Netflix was excelling in that very line of business, or that streaming would soon eclipse physical media. Still, the demise of Columbia House is a lesson in just how long dying businesses can hold on. Indeed, 110,000 people ordered something from Columbia House last year, a statistic as  befuddling as the 2.3 million people who still subscribe to AOL dialup. The owner of Columbia House, which outsourced everything and employed zero people, surely milked the wizened company of any remaining profit before casting it aside entirely, which really doesn’t get enough credit as a business strategy.