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Sesame Street, the long-running educational children's television series featuring Muppet characters like Big Bird, Elmo, and Cookie Monster, debuted in 1969 on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States. At one point, a Canadian version of the series aired on CBC. However, in recent years, and for various reasons, the program's producers have shifted their focus towards paid services across North America, such as HBO Max in the U.S., while continuing to make older episodes available on PBS.
New episodes of Sesame Street currently air in Canada on Treehouse TV, a commercial-free specialty channel targeted to preschoolers owned by Corus Entertainment. Corus has a long-term exclusive agreement with Sesame Workshop for Canadian rights to Sesame Street and related series, which was last extended in 2018. The series is generally also available on demand to cable, satellite, or IPTV subscribers that have Treehouse in their package. Distribution varies by provider, but if you live in an English-speaking part of Canada and have a cable package (other than "skinny basic"), it's very likely you already have Treehouse.
As of early 2021, Sesame Street airs daily at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time (4:00 a.m. Pacific time, 8:30 a.m. Newfoundland time) on Treehouse. New episodes, airing within a couple of days of their American premieres on HBO Max, currently debut on Saturday mornings (though there is not necessarily a new episode every Saturday), and are repeated later that day at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.
If you are a cordcutter without a cable TV package, Treehouse programming is also available to stream as part of StackTV, an add-on package for Amazon Prime Video which costs $12.99 per month, in addition to the cost of Amazon Prime itself, which is $7.99 per month or $79.00 per year. A standalone Treehouse streaming service has been offered in the past but is being phased out, as we'll discuss below.
How can I watch "Sesame Street" on demand in Canada?
If you subscribe to the StackTV package mentioned above, you can watch the most recent season, Season 51, of Sesame Street on this page. You can search "Sesame Street" within the Prime Video interface to access available episodes from past seasons.
If you subscribe to Treehouse through a traditional TV provider like Rogers, Bell, or Shaw, the ways to access Sesame Street on-demand will be different depending on the company, but consistent with how you can get other on-demand programming.
As of this writing, for example, Rogers Cable makes it very easy to access Sesame Street – if you go to the main Rogers on Demand channel, channel 100 on a Rogers digital cable set-top box, there is a "Kids Zone" tile showing Sesame Street characters, and from there it's very easy to find the series. It's also available on other devices via Rogers' Anyplace TV websites and apps (requiring you to sign in with your MyRogers credentials).
For other providers (and for Rogers' newer Ignite TV service), the process is similar but the steps are slightly different. You may want to contact your provider directly or check their website for more details on how to access on-demand kids programming.
Treehouse has also offered two apps of its own, but one, a "TV Everywhere" app intended for existing cable subscribers, Treehouse Go, was phased out in 2019. The remaining app may have been helpful to cordcutters, but does not allow cable subscribers to access their subscribed programs. Instead, a standalone $4.99 per month subscription is available to access Treehouse programming. When we last checked the app, we saw a message that this standalone service is shutting down on March 1, 2021, as Corus tries to encourage more cordcutters to instead subscribe to its broader StackTV and Nick+ offerings (and to be clear, while StackTV includes Sesame Street, the lower-priced Nick+ does not).
Regardless of provider, note that episodes do sometimes rotate in and out of availability; Treehouse is not offering the full 51-year library of past episodes as HBO Max does. For example, as of this writing in February 2021, the first three episodes of the current Season 51 have already been removed from availability.
How about spin-offs like "The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo" and other specials?
Yes, Treehouse airs (or has aired) those as well, and most of these have been made available on-demand in the same ways. However, again, they may only be available for a limited time. As we're writing this, for example, The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo is available with StackTV via this Prime Video page, but the page states the series will be leaving the StackTV library, at least for now, on February 22.
Occasionally, Sesame Street specials have also (or instead) aired on other channels. For example, the show's 50th anniversary special also aired on Corus' broadcast network Global, while various topical kid-friendly town hall specials featuring Sesame characters instead aired worldwide on CNN (which, like HBO, is owned by WarnerMedia).
Do I have any options other than Treehouse to watch "Sesame Street" in Canada?
Sesame Street continues to be available on PBS, which operates entirely in the U.S. but has member stations that also target viewers in Canada. The series still airs regularly on most PBS stations, typically at least once per weekday, with most of the stations we checked airing it at 11:00 a.m. Eastern or Pacific time (but check your local listings or program guide to confirm – most PBS stations are managed independently, so airtimes can vary).
While the Sesame Street episodes that air on PBS now are relatively recent, they will not be the absolute latest. Programs from the most recent season will not air on PBS until about nine months after they premiere on HBO Max in the U.S. (and on Treehouse in Canada).
Many PBS stations are available in Canada over-the-air if you are close to the U.S. border with a strong antenna, or as part of cable TV packages, including – in most cases – the $25 per month (or less) "skinny basic" packages that all Canadian TV providers are now required to offer.
So, depending on your cable provider and the channels and packages available to you, it may be more cost-effective to access Sesame Street through PBS rather than paying for a package that includes Treehouse.
However, if you want to access the show at a different time than scheduled, you will need to record it with an PVR or similar device as PBS does not have any on-demand rights to the program in Canada.
Although you may see a PBS folder on your TV provider's on-demand service, this folder will not contain Sesame Street. Similarly, PBS's mobile and streaming device apps don't provide access to Sesame Street, regardless of whether you choose to donate to get the Passport benefit for PBS station members.
Can I access "Sesame Street" through Crave or HBO in Canada?
No. As referenced above, in the United States, new episodes of Sesame Street now debut first on the HBO Max streaming service, having moved there in 2020 from the HBO pay TV channel (which, in turn, had taken first-run rights from PBS in 2015).
However, HBO and HBO Max' agreements have covered the American rights only. HBO's international partner in Canada, Crave (owned by Bell Media), has never carried the series, either on its linear channels (like HBO Canada) or its streaming platform. In general, the same has been true of HBO's other international services and partners.
Sesame Workshop (previously known as the Children's Television Workshop or CTW), the independent non-profit organization that produces the series, has a separate Canadian rights agreement with Corus Entertainment, the owner of Treehouse. This covers not only broadcasting rights but merchandising rights (such as a recent clothing partnership with Hudson's Bay). Corus' Nelvana division also co-produces Esme & Roy, another series from Sesame Workshop.
Wasn't "Sesame Street" on CBC at one point?
Yes, there was a Canadianized version of the main Sesame Street program that aired on CBC Television between approximately 1972 to 1996, followed by a more distinctly Canadian program called Sesame Park which aired from 1996 to the early 2000s. Both versions included segments produced solely for Canadian consumption, featuring exclusive Muppet characters like Basil the Bear and Louis the Otter which have not re-appeared in other Sesame programs since.
All indications are that the CBC quietly stopped airing the program in either 2001 or 2002. The exact reason why the CBC dropped the series at that time is not clear, though it might have been related to a round of budget cuts that took place in 2000 which caused the public broadcaster to re-evaluate various parts of its operations.
It's our recollection that Treehouse was already airing a few programs incorporating older Sesame Street segments, like Open Sesame, around the time of the CBC's cancellation, but did not pick up the parent show until a few years later.
Much more recently, CBC has been airing The Furchester Hotel, a BBC / Sesame Workshop co-production which was produced from 2014 to 2017 and features Elmo and Cookie Monster alongside different Muppet-style characters. Although Sesame Workshop seems to handle international distribution, it's a distinct series from Sesame Street, which may explain why it was available to CBC instead of airing on Treehouse.
Didn't Disney buy the Muppets? Could "Sesame Street" show up on Disney+?
Disney did buy the "Muppets" trademarks, and the rights to characters like Kermit the Frog, from The Jim Henson Company in 2004. However, that purchase didn't include any rights to Sesame Street-exclusive characters like Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, or Bert and Ernie, since Sesame Workshop had purchased the characters outright from Henson a few years before.
The only ongoing connection between Disney and Sesame Workshop is for the latter's limited rights to use the "Muppets" name to describe its puppet characters, and for Kermit, who is still allowed to show up occasionally on Sesame Street – but much less frequently (in new episodes) than in years past, with the only appearance of recent years being for the show's 50th anniversary special in 2019.
As for streaming on Disney+: Anything is possible, but at this point, given the long-term agreements that Sesame Workshop has in place with the likes of HBO Max, Treehouse, and other broadcasters around the world, we don't think it's likely that Sesame Street will show up on Disney+ any time soon.