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HBO Max Wants Your Children as ‘Sesame Street’ Bolsters Its Kid-Friendly Plans

TV Business Rundown: Netflix gets loyalty love in a Wall Street survey while Amazon and Disney scuffle over Fire TV ad space.

Sesame Street

“Sesame Street”

Sesame Workshop

The HBO Max army has recruited Elmo, Big Bird, and the rest of the “Sesame Street” squad for the ongoing streaming television war.

HBO Max announced a five-year deal with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind “Sesame Street,” that will see the classic children’s show relocate from PBS to HBO Max. It’s a move that some parents might consider ransom: Your kid wants to see Elmo again? Sure, just pony up $14.99 a month, for the rest of their childhood.

The deal, which launches with the premiere of the show’s 51st season, marks the first time that the entire “Sesame Street” library is available for streaming. The streamer will also build a “Sesame Street” hub” to help viewers navigate the franchise’s content, which will also include four new live-action and animated series. Elmo will even get a stab at the late-night talk show scene with “The Not Too Late Show with Elmo.”

The show will still air for free, eventually, on the linear PBS Kids, but Deadline reported that the lag time might be for as long as nine months.

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“Sesame Street” isn’t the only kid-friendly programming coming to HBO Max, as the streaming service announced Wednesday that it hired TBS original programming executive Billy Wee as SVP original animation and former Nickelodeon and Disney development exec Nikki Reed as VP of kids and family scripted originals.

WarnerMedia is expected to share more details about HBO Max at an event on the Warner Bros. Burbank lot October 29. Although smaller content distributors can afford to focus on their specific niches, major streamers need broad-appeal content offerings that seem as essential as electricity.

Although upcoming streaming services have dominated streaming television headlines, Netflix must have taken comfort this week with a favorable survey conducted by Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson. The survey, which sampled 1,500 current American Netflix subscribers, said that around 75 percent of respondents did not plan on subscribing to Disney+ or Apple TV+. The majority of that group said they expected to maintain their Netflix subscriptions.

Still, a word of caveat emptor: It only surveyed current subscribers, who would presumably have more loyalty to the platform than non-subscribers. Olson is also a noted Netflix optimist, whereas many other analysts have been less kind to the service, which lost 126,000 U.S. subscribers in the last fiscal quarter.

Of course, none of this is to say that Netflix has been sitting idle: The company announced “Stranger Things” Season 4 earlier this week and signed a multi-year overall deal with series creators Matt and Ross Duffer. Netflix also revealed the cast of its upcoming “Shadow and Bone” young adult fantasy series yesterday.

"Stranger Things"

“Stranger Things”

Netflix

In less positive Netflix news, the Milan-based Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that the streaming company is under investigation for alleged tax evasion in Italy. Though Netflix does not have an office or physical presence in the country, the preliminary probe revolves around the company’s computer servers and cables it uses. Italian prosecutors say that technology constitutes a digital infrastructure, which would make Netflix’s revenues taxable. Netflix executives are not being investigated.

“Netflix has been working closely with the Italian tax authorities,” a Netflix spokesperson told IndieWire in a statement. “We pay all the taxes due in Italy, and other countries around the world. Netflix invests millions of Euros in Italian productions – helping to create jobs and support the local creative community.”

Netflix has around 1.4 million Italian subscribers, according to an estimate cited by the paper.

Variety noted that Milan prosecutors have recently investigated a handful of other American companies, including Apple, Amazon, and Facebook—which all have physical offices in Italy— and reportedly collected at least €5 billion (around $5.48 billion) in back taxes for the Italian government.

Speaking of Amazon, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company is butting heads with Disney. Disney has several apps for networks, including ABC, ESPN, and the Disney Channel, on Amazon’s Fire TV, and Amazon wants to sell a significant percentage of the ad space on Disney apps.

Amazon typically barters for a portion of ad space from the companies that offer programming on Fire TV, though Disney has reportedly resisted those efforts. If talks fall through, Disney apps could disappear from Fire TV. The disappearance of films and television shows due to expired contracts has become a major pain point for many subscribers of various streaming services recently, and the abrupt removal of entire Disney channels from Fire TV would likely cause similar anger.

Fire TV is the second most popular streaming box on the market, which means a potentially significant fraction of viewers would have to go elsewhere to tune in to Disney’s networks.

There are no plans for Fire TV to carry Disney+, and if discussions between Amazon and Disney continue to sour, it’s unlikely that that will change anytime soon.

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