Last updated on May 16th, 2023
The longtime children’s series “Sesame Street” has had an interesting past few years. In 2015, “Sesame Street” moved from its longtime home of PBS to HBO and (what’s now) HBO Max; HBO/HBO Max airs first-run episodes, while PBS gets reruns some months later. In 2022, HBO Max’s owner, Warner Bros. Discovery, purged multiple back catalog episodes of “Sesame Street,” as part of its recent cost-cutting moves.
The latest news about “Sesame Street” is, unfortunately, not good. Sesame Workshop, the producers of the show, announced a partnership with NFT site VeVe. Starting March 19, VeVe will offer 5,555 copies of a Cookie Monster NFT for sale, at $60 each. Other NFTs featuring “Sesame Street” characters will be released later this year.
The news has been met with near-universal backlash. The Muppet fan site “Tough Pigs” has an entire post about the “Sesame Street” NFTs. (Apparently there’s also been Fraggle Rock NFTs? *Sigh.*) Meanwhile, the social media fan account Muppet History posted this tweet:
Sesame Street was built on helping educate children in lower income living. To give those less privileged the opportunity to learn before entering preschool.
This nostalgia fueled cash grab goes against that ideology entirely and it’s sickening. https://t.co/1N4bhrNCao
— Muppet History 🎓 (@HistoryMuppet) March 13, 2023
The only defenses I’ve found so far also come from Twitter. A few NFT fans claim that selling Cookie Monster NFTs is more environmentally friendly than a plastic toy (ignoring the wasteful electrical usage behind NFTs), and that kids and adults can both enjoy… a $60 JPEG file. A file that anyone can right-click and save to their computer for free.
Why “Sesame Street” NFTs are bad
I’ve written about NFTs before, and my reasons against them haven’t changed. They’re environmentally wasteful, a ridiculous attempt at speculation through artificial scarcity, and share the same downsides as any other speculator-driven collectible craze (remember Beanie Babies?). That last one has come to pass: the market for NFTs has crashed (along with the market for cryptocurrency) and hard. Even Meta has announced they’re pulling out of NFTs. I suspect most NFT speculators are currently trying to move onto cashing in (somehow) on the recently-started AI/ChatGPT/chatbot “gold rush” (which has its own concerns). If anything, “Sesame Street” is getting in late on a dying fad.
NFTs also go against the spirit of the show. “Sesame Street”’s core purpose is offering basic educational and social skills to young viewers. The show was launched in 1969 as an alternative to commercial children’s programming popular at the time (slapstick cartoons, superheroes, etc.). “Sesame Street” also stood out early on for being aimed at young Black and Latino viewers, two groups who were little represented at the time in commercial children’s programming. (The first TV cartoon predominately starring Black characters, “The Harlem Globetrotters,” didn’t debut until 1970.)
I can see arguments in favor of offering merchandising, or even the move from PBS to HBO, as “Sesame Street” does need to pay for itself. (Even if, philosophically, moving from a free, non-commercial public broadcaster to an expensive, commercially-run pay TV channel/streaming service feels “off.”) However, NFTs only exist for speculative reasons, on top of being environmentally problematic. Any kid would rather have a physical toy or a video game for $60. Adults who want images of Cookie Monster and company can download “Sesame Street” wallpaper from a number of online sources, including Sesame Workshop’s own site.
What to do with $60 instead: buy a year of PBS Passport
If you really want to spend $60 on something public television-related, instead of a worthless NFT, I recommend buying a year of PBS Passport, PBS’ streaming service. Unlike streaming services like Netflix, PBS Passport is treated as a member benefit for those donating at least $60 to their local PBS station. Some stations can set a higher minimum, but $60 a year, or $5 a month, is the usual amount.
PBS Passport provides access to an extensive back catalog of the PBS programming library, as well as some unique programming only available to Passport subscribers. One such Passport-only show is Canada’s “Frankie Drake Mysteries,” a show about an all-women detective agency in 1920s Toronto. I note that this programming is PBS’ primetime, non-children’s lineup; PBS Kids is available as a separate app for free.
Not only will you get PBS Passport, your donation will also help your local PBS station (without middlemen like VeVe involved), and support PBS programming overall, from “Sesame Street” to “Masterpiece.” The donation is also usually tax deductible; check your local station’s website for details.
Overall, spending $60 on a year of PBS Passport certainly sounds more useful, supportive of public television, entertaining, and less problematic than spending the same amount on a glorified Cookie Monster JPEG.