On the internet, we have learned to accept that anything goes: behind an innocent-looking link could lie a “shock site” (or some other unexpected destination). We’ve also learned to accept that we’ll end up seeing ads for everything from Bibles to iPods to Rick Astley. It’s easy to forget just how unpredictable the internet can be, and companies that focus on children must be vigilant about protecting their audiences.
Sesame Street has tackled all of these problems head on, and has done very well in securing its place in children’s entertainment on the web. Sesame Street has been on the air since 1969, airs in over a hundred countries, and has had over 4,000 episodes so far in its run. The show mainly features puppets teaching basic words and numbers, oftentimes alongside celebrities ranging from the Goo Goo Dolls and Anderson Cooper to Busta Rhymes and Robert De Niro.
To keep up with the changing times, Sesame Street has gone online, with one of the best designed websites I’ve seen in terms of simplicity and organization. The main sections include games, videos, playlists (for dynamic lessons), profiles of the characters, and “My Street” where parents can bookmark their child’s favorite videos and games. The videos are also available on Hulu, completely free of advertising . All over the site text is minimized where possible, and buttons are large, colorful, and require minimal reading skills. In some places, the arrow disappears and turns into a large star, making it easier for children to see what they’re clicking on.
I spoke to a few parents about Sesame Street online, and checked out various forums to see what their reaction has been. One comment on Hulu summed up the majority of responses: “We’re huge Sesame Street fans but don’t have TV, so we’d catch some clips on YouTube. Problem? My kids could accidentally wind up watching objectionable stuff if they clicked on other links after their clip was done. Enter the Hulu Queue to the rescue! I feel this is a safer place for them to watch and I hope more PBS programming follows.”
Sesame Street is one of the biggest names in children’s entertainment, so it was no surprise to me to see that they’ve gone online—the surprise was in how well they’ve done it. As someone who has their computer plugged into their TV more often than the cable box, I can easily see using Hulu to watch Sesame Street with my children some day. I hope that other shows follow suit, and make at least a tiny part of the internet safe for children.