Globalization Lessons from Sesame Street

According to this New York Times article on the globalization of Sesame Street

    Last year, more than 68 percent of Sesame Street’s revenues came from income from licensing of products. Japan started its own version of “Sesame Street” last year, and Sesame Workshop’s 4 percent jump in revenue last year came largely from licensing agreements in Japan. Today, “Sesame Street” appears in more than 120 countries, and about 25 of them are co-productions. France had a more American version of “Sesame Street” in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, but stronger local competition pushed it off the air.

Now what does Sesame Street have to do with Web globalization?


Here are a few lessons that I take from my favorite childhood show…

Local competition forces you to localize better.
As Sesame Street has learned, the days of dumping dubbed videos onto other markets is coming to an end. Local competitors may not have the production values but they will beat you with the simple fact that they know their audience better than you do. So it’s not enough to do one iteration of globalization – be it product or Web site – and be done with it. The competitive bar will continue to escalate. That’s the great irony of globalization — on one hand we see commodization and harmonization as Starbucks, and the like, blanket the world, but we also see differentiation of a different kind as global brands reinvent themselves locally.

Think about how well your name will travel.
Sesame Street has basically had to rename itself for every new market, driven in large part by that pesky “street.” A brand name like Starbucks effectively avoids those difficulties. Of course, this isn’t Sesame Street’s fault — and it’s not necessarily a bad thing — but if you’re naming a new brand today, think how well it will travel.

Be prepared to sacrifice your stars.
In France, Big Bird was replaced by Nac and in India, Big Bird was replaced by Boombah. Why? According to the article…

    “If it is to work in India, the Indian kid watching it should not feel it is American or foreign,” said Niret Alva, president of Miditech, who said that the American version never made the leap beyond a niche channel in India to reach an audience of children estimated at more than 157 million.”

I imagine the Sesame Street execs went through some real angst when considering whether to give Big Bird the axe. But the fact is that local partners are playing a key role in the creation of new local characters, driven in large part by new licensing opportunities. Which leads me to…

Local guides will make or break your local business.
Sesame Street has made itself open to local partners, which means sharing revenues, sharing risk, and investing a lot of time and energy. The French show took over a year to launch but my guess is that this time was well spent. Choosing a local partner is part art, part science — with a fair amount of luck thrown in. And it can make all the difference.

PS: Keep your eyes out for a documentary titled The World According to Sesame Street.

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