Big Bird’s Billion: How Sesame Street Reached 1 Billion Views on YouTube

sesame-street youtubeIn February, Sesame Street released a call to action for its fans, asking that everyone support their effort to reach 1 billion views on YouTube. To celebrate, they promised to release an exclusive video if the goal were reached.

Well, on March 5, 2013, Sesame Street reached Justin Bieber territory online, becoming the first nonprofit and children’s media outlet to reach 1 billion YouTube views in the United States! As they had promised, Sesame Street released this delightful celebratory video:

When you consider that less than 1% of YouTube videos get over 500,000 views, the fact that Sesame Street reached a billion – and was the first nonprofit to do so – is extremely impressive! What’s more impressive, however, is the careful planning and content development strategy they created to get there.

Sesame Street’s Secrets

When the creators of Sesame Street realized the power of online video in education, they decided to focus more on their digital strategy than their competitors. Consider that education is one of the fastest growing categories on YouTube – no wonder they wanted to be ahead of the curve!

In honor of Sesame Street’s success, here are some of their strategies that have helped them get there:

  • Share Me Maybe. As Carly Rae Jepsen’s top 40 hit Call Me Maybe dominated airwaves last summer, Sesame Street decided to make their own parody called Share Me Maybe. Because they acted so quickly to take advantage of the fad, they were quickly able to capitalize on the viral craze and connect with parents, kids, and fans. In fact, multiple marketing studies have shown us that bandwagon advertising and trendjacking/newsjacking are simple yet effective techniques to inject your brand into the hype. Sesame Street pursued this strategy and succeeded. Furthermore, the obvious call to action in the video paid off, as Share Me Maybe is one of their most viewed videos to date.
  • 300 videos a year. Part of Sesame Street’s aggressive digital approach is to upload content frequently. In fact, the brand releases over 300 videos a year on YouTube – that’s nearly one a day! These clips range from classic moments throughout the years to segments created specifically for YouTube, such as the 1 billion view celebratory video above. According to YouTube’s official Creator Playbook, new video frequency is one of the most important aspects of a channel’s success. While YouTube recommends 1 video a week for the average content creator, brands with name recognition can create their own release schedule as long as it’s consistent.
  • Parodies for relevance. Aside from reaching their targeted demographic, Sesame Street wanted to appeal to parents as well. The Call Me Maybe parody is an example that entertained both children and adults alike, but it isn’t the only spoof that the Grouch and his friends have made. From parodying the Old Spice commercials to featuring guests such as, India Arie, and Cameron Diaz, Sesame Street made itself relevant for all demographics. In fact, with this new strategy, Elmo and his gang have climbed from the 19th most popular children’s program to the 13th in 2012.

Sesame Street’s competitors such as Disney and Nickelodeon aren’t as robust on the online video content front, and it’s beginning to show in the ratings. Sesame Street attributes their rising television viewership directly to their online presence.

With less than 100 brands reaching 1 billion combined views and many more hesitant to aggressively pursue platforms like YouTube, there’s still an opportunity to be ahead of the curve. Sesame Street’s creators have sensed that online video will play a larger role not only in education, but every facet of entertainment.

What tips have you taken from Sesame Street’s successful content strategy? Does your business use YouTube to engage with customers?


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Daniel Chioco is a writer living in Nashville, TN. He earned his Commercial Music degree at Belmont University, where he also studied creative writing and wrote for the student newspaper. When he isn't creating content, Daniel works as an actor and films YouTube videos. He is also a freelance musician and is authoring his first fantasy novel.

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