Global Diversity Rings in the Cash Registers for Sesame Workshop

Dec 14, 2005

By Rupa Ranganathan, Ethnic Strategist, Strategic Research Institute (

International Licensing has contributed substantially to the increase in revenue of Sesame Street Workshop, the non-profit organization based in New York.

The global travels of Kermit the Frog, Big Bird, Elmo and Griotte, the girl in the wheelchair, not only helps to foster tolerance, unity and an appreciation of other cultures but also demonstrates successful ways to expand your brand to a multitude of cultures effectively through strong local partnerships.

Doreen Carvajal wrote in the International Herald Tribune, “Last year more than 68% of Sesame Street’s revenues came from income from licensing of products.”

What is to be learned from Big Bird and his flock’s international adventures?

According to Sesame Street Workshop CEO, Gary Knell “global merchandizing is most important because it is subsidizing the show in the U.S. and the research we do at the workshop”.

In France, Rue Sesame, was created two months ago through the partnership of France 5, a national public television station, and Sesame Street Workshop. In this version, the use of an Arabic-looking woman Baya who runs the bakery and the creation of Nac, a new mascot gives the original a new flair and twist that dovetails French cultural ingredients.

“It took us a year and a half to launch this show,” said Alexandre Michelin, programming director for France 5. “We had to adapt it to keep ‘Sesame Street’ values and ours, finding a way to make it work with French issues.”

In India, a seven-foot lion Boombah will seen on a streetscape with a Cybercafe instead of a bakery, reflecting the reality of today’s India. It is co-produced with the makers of Indian idol, Miditech. India’s audience of children for this show is estimated around 157 million. Originally broadcast in Hindi, it will eventually be produced in the 15 official languages spoken in India.

An Egyptian co-production developed five years ago is now taking “Alam Simsim” to other Arabic-speaking countries with a Pan-Arabic version.

In Cambodia, Sabai Sabai Sesame (Happy Happy Sesame) has been financed in part by the U.S. government and is basically an American version dubbed in Khmer.

Beyond licensing dollars, these expansions can also serve as vital agents of social change with the creation and development of the H.I.V. positive pet, Kami, on “Takalani Sesame”
in South Africa.

Moderator’s Comment: What can U.S. multicultural marketers learn from global multinational brands or cross-border marketers who reinvent or build upon
a successful U.S. introduction to reach other markets and other cultures?

George Anderson – Moderator

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3 Comments on "Global Diversity Rings in the Cash Registers for Sesame Workshop"

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Mark Lilien
16 years 5 months ago
Since the end of World War I, except during World War II, the best USA global marketers have been from the entertainment business. It is very difficult for any film or TV series to be profitable without serious overseas adoption. The entertainment business is always in the top tier of export revenue earning industries, year after year, decade after decade. Most major films get at least half their revenue from overseas markets. For children’s entertainment, this success flows through to the licensing. In some ways, what Sesame Street has done is similar to global franchising. Each national player can adapt the characters and scripts. This has been done in the magazine business for decades, by companies such as Playboy and Reader’s Digest. The key to Hollywood’s success has been embracing universal themes and building the global appeal from the start of the project, not trying to adapt as an afterthought. Outside of Hollywood, the list of successful global brands, such as Marlboro and Coca-Cola, is not very long.
Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
16 years 5 months ago

I spoke with some folks from Sesame Workshop at a licensing event this year and was quite impressed with their passion for the characters and most of all, their sensitivity to cultural issues and the need to partner with others around the world in order to properly translate the brand. Many American companies have had to learn the hard way that they can’t expect success by simply foisting their brands on other cultures. Sesame Workshop’s global success is all the more impressive because they have the additional challenge of creating characters that will resonate across the globe!

Rupa Ranganathan
Rupa Ranganathan
16 years 5 months ago

Mark is so right, there is a lot that marketers can learn from entertainment brands. In India, where consumers speak over 16 official languages and have cultural traditions that mirror a sub-continent rather than a nation, marketers have always drunk from the fountain of Bollywood. Bollywood has been a great leveler in India, connecting diverse demographic and socio-cultural segments at once. Multicultural marketers also can learn from global entertainment brands. In addition to Marlboro and Coca Cola, clearly in today’s world, Sony, Microsoft and Amazon are making new strides in connecting with global cultures.


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