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February 14, 2012

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Sesame Workshop, Toonmax Media Bring Sesame Street Back to China

By Graydon Gordian

Toonmax Media President Yang Wen Yan, Sesame Workshop CEO Mel Ming, and Oscar the Grouch chat at a cocktail party to celebrate our partnership.

For Yang Wen Yan and Ye Chao, the respective president and vice president of Shanghai-based Toonmax Media, the return of Sesame Street to China is about more than a strategic partnership that they believe will help their company grow. It’s about reuniting with a show that has been a part of their lives for decades.

“About 20 years ago I was involved in the Production of Zhima Jie,” as Sesame Street was known in China, said Ms. Yang through a translator. “I was a line producer” when Sesame Workshop started working on a Chinese co-production in 1993.

For Mr. Ye, the connection goes back even further. “The first time I experienced Sesame Street was 1984, when I was visiting a studio in Germany that was producing the German co-production of Sesame Street,” he said, also through a translator. He would begin working on Zhima Jie in 1994.

However, Zhima Jie went off the air in 2001 and Ms. Yang and Mr. Ye moved on, eventually working together again as the top executives at Toonmax Media. Mr. Ye said he was pleasantly surprised when the opportunity to bring Sesame Street back to Chinese television came along in 2010.

“It’s just like the Sesame Street TV content, which brings lots of surprises,” said Mr. Ye. “I got surprised too.”

According to Ms. Yang, partnering with Sesame Workshop makes perfect sense for a company like Toonmax Media. High quality educational content is one of their two major focuses (the other is animation), and from their experience working with Sesame Workshop they know firsthand how much time, energy and educational research goes into producing our programs.

Just like every international co-production, Sesame Street’s Big Bird Looks at the World, which began airing in China in 2010, a tremendous amount of effort and care has gone into ensuring that the program is best suited for the educational needs of local children. In China, this means creating a curriculum for a slightly older audience – 4 to 6-year-olds instead of 2 to 4-year olds, which the American show is meant for – and making sure the series fosters children’s natural curiosity about nature and science and encourages hands-on exploration as a great way to learn.

While the curriculum for Sesame Street’s Big Bird Looks at the World may differ from the American version, Ms. Yang believes it is the universal charm of the Sesame Street MuppetsTM that makes the program a success.

“It’s really about the personality of the characters,” she said. “What is unique is the Muppets.”

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