Thomas the Tank Engine is travelling to a new frontier. Thomas and Friends, the long-running TV program starring the iconic locomotive, is now available online. PBS Kids has posted full episodes on its website, where young children will surely view them en masse.

Thomas and Friends, based on a book series that began in the 1940s, has been on the air since 1984. 411 total episodes have been produced, making it the second most prolific show in PBS Kids’ library (behind Sesame Street, naturally). The online episodes are presented in a sleek player that transitions seamlessly between each video, giving kids no time to get bored/throw things.

The Thomas and Friends episodes will definitely score a gigantic audience. There are only a few clips from the show on YouTube, but the ones that are up there have been viewed millions of times. The most popular Thomas clip on YouTube sports a viewcount in excess of 46 million.

PBS is surely inspired by the runaway success of Sesame Street on YouTube; the show’s channel recently achieved its billionth view. Kids programming will always be successful on the Internet, since tired parents can treat online episodes as an on-demand ‘make my kid be quiet for ten minutes’ device. For this reason, children’s shows have been relatively immune to the difficulties faced by YouTube’s first wave of paid channels.

Of course, the online Thomas episodes prove why YouTube’s experiment is likely to fail. When you can get quality children’s entertainment for free, why would you pay for it?

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