We Interview Will DePippo from Sesame Workshop

The Bugg Report recently had an opportunity to speak to Will DePippo, Director, Asia Pacific – International Media & Education Business at Sesame Workshop. Following up on an amazing 2018; we covered a range of topics including highlights from 2018, the Sesame Street brand and what it means to the world, Julia and the work the company is doing with Autism and #SeeAmazing, a range of fantastic collaborations, fashion, all-new episodes, retail, Licensing Expo and 2019 through 2020. Be sure to check out the full interview below, it is well worth a reading!

Thanks for speaking with The Bugg Report, Will. As an introduction, can you tell us about some key highlights from 2018 in the world of Sesame Street?

It’s a pleasure, and first off, thanks to The Bugg Report for all that you do to bring the industry together and giving us a wonderful sense of community. To answer your question, 2018 was one of the most successful years in Sesame Street’s history. We’re launching the largest Early Childhood Development initiative in the history of humanitarian response, with our MacArthur Foundation 100&Change project. MacArthur committed $100 million to support our humanitarian work with the International Rescue Committee in the Syrian response region. And the LEGO Foundation stepped up and pledged an additional $100 million to support this worthy cause.

This year, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary, which kicked off in February with an amazing story from 60 Minutes Australia. Liam Bartlett came to the set and interviewed the cast and crew who produce our flagship TV show. Later this year, we’ll be coming to Australia, as we do every year with the Sesame Street Muppets to make appearances and celebrate our birthday locally. We’re also very excited about the new ticketed live Sesame Street show being developed by Showtime Attractions. This is going to be unlike any live show we’ve done before. HeadStart continues to do an amazing job, and is once again nominated for a global LIMA award at this year’s Licensing Expo.

Will, you have been at Sesame Workshop, an amazing organisation for almost 15 years now, what do you love the most about Sesame Street?

A lot of people don’t realize that we’re an educational non-profit organization. Sesame Workshop’s mission is to help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. Being able to contribute to that mission everyday is incredibly rewarding and not something I take for granted. In addition, I love the people that I get to work with. As you can imagine, Sesame Workshop is a magnet for some of the most intelligent, creative, and kind-hearted people in the world, and it’s wonderful to be part of such a talented team.

We also are fortunate to work with amazing, best-in-class partners like Haven Global, our local licensing representative who are an incredibly smart and passionate part of the Sesame family. Everything we do is tied back to our mission. So when we take a moment to evaluate how we’re doing, we seek ways to measure the impact we’re making in the lives of families in Australia and around the world.

One of the ways we evaluate how we’re doing is by measuring the impact that we’re having. Are we making a positive impact in the lives of families in Australia and around the world? We’re thrilled with Sesame Street’s performance on ABC Kids, Australia’s #1 children’s channel. We’ve had an amazing 48 year partnership with them which has led to generations of fans loving our brand. Sesame Street has 98% awareness with Australian kids, and 94% awareness with adults, making Australia one of our top markets in the world. Market research has also showed us that Moms especially love Sesame Street. Research we fielded in 2018 showed that Australian moms rank Sesame Street #1 for education and preparing their kids for school, meaning that we are the gold standard for Australian moms when it comes to educational programming.

The #SeeAmazing hashtag has become really popular, as has Julia. Can you provide an overview of this initiative, how you have instilled Julia into the Sesame Street business and how great the response has been?

We’re thrilled by the response that Julia, our Sesame Street Muppet with autism, is receiving around the world including in Australia. Julia is an integral part of our “See Amazing” initiative to promote autism awareness. And our talented Sesame Street writers and producers have done an incredible job crafting Julia as a hero character. In other words, she’s not a victim, she’s a powerful young girl. In one story, Julia comes to the aid of another character who is being bullied. It’s really powerful stuff. In Australia, we’re thrilled by how people are responding to Julia. And it’s been especially gratifying to have great support from partners including LIMA Australia, who have helped embrace our campaign to create awareness for our initiative. ABC broadcast our newest Julia episode day-and-date with other key markets around the world. HeadStart and Big W also supported from a licensing and retail perspective by launching a new Julia plush toy during Autism Awareness Month.

We have seen Sesame Street on Hypebeast as well as the collabs with KAWS. This is a new area and a really interesting and exciting shift from the traditional Sesame Street direction. How did these new ventures come about?

Thanks, the response from fans and the industry has been really positive. We’ve been doing collaborations for years, in fact one of our favorites was our campaign with Peter Alexander two years ago, and we’re extremely excited for their new Sesame Street campaign, which launches this summer. I think what was new with the KAWS and UNIQLO collaboration, was how massively popular and successful it was on a global scale. And similar to Peter Alexander, the cool factor. It’s been amazing to walk down the street in NYC or other cities around the world, and see teenagers and young adults wearing the apparel from this campaign. And we’ve heard from other licensees, that this has had a positive impact on their own businesses as well, which is what we expected, but is very gratifying to see taking shape.

Fashion seems to be on the radar quite regularly of late with the partnership with InStyle and the Sesame Street inspired outfits at London Fashion Week. Was this a deliberate focus by Sesame Street or something that evolved?

Working on a brand like Sesame Street, we’re quite fortunate that we have have a cross generational appeal. We appeal to kids as well as adults. Everyone has a favorite Sesame Street character, and that relationship continues throughout your life. Indeed last year, Cookie Monster wrote an inspirational book, and this year, Oscar the Grouch released his own book with life advice for our adult Sesame Street fans. As an adult myself, I continue to learn important lessons from Sesame Street. That’s a bit of a tangent, but where I’m going is, that there’s demand from fans to express themselves through fashion and also to revel in the fun of their favorite characters. So, I feel it’s something the fans want, and we’re having a great time working with amazing fashion partners to help deliver on that.

Difuzed and Jimmy Paul’s Sesame Street inspired collection debuted at London Fashion Week in February. Dutch designer Jimmy Paul developed a ready to wear Sesame Street collection of apparel and accessories. Ten couture pieces were created especially for the runway show at London Fashion week with the full range available this Autumn. In Korea, we were featured at the Seoul Fashion week in March, where our collaboration with Beyond Closet launched. Speaking broadly, from a creative perspective, we always receive really positive feedback on our art style guides, and I think that’s one of our strengths. We have a very deep library of style guide artwork, in a range of styles and approaches, from photography to line art, that lend themselves to all different categories and sectors.

The new season of Sesame Street debuted in November on HBO. How has the response been to the new episodes?

The response has been phenomenal. Ratings are up 79% season-to-season. We grew our younger audience, increasing both reach and frequency with 2-year olds – while also maintaining our 4 and 5 year-old viewers. Per HBO, digital streams are up 29% season-to-season as well. In terms of the curriculum, we’re continuing to build on our “Learning Through Play” curriculum. One way we continue to stay relevant is by developing an all new season of the show every year. And it all starts with educational research, where we get the best educational advisors available together, to help us identify what the latest learnings are from teachers, scientists, and researchers – and they help work with our writers and producers, to bake this all into the show.

As retail changes and innovation is arguably more important than ever, have you looked to partnerships and promotions in new areas and with new businesses and events to drive the Sesame Street business?

Great question. Yes, absolutely. We want to be wherever families are. For a while now, we’ve all observed the trend of consumers spending more discretionary income on experiences versus traditional consumer products. Our theme park business has been expanding dramatically. We’ve received interest from numerous players in the experiential space looking to partner with us in the themed entertainment category. And so, we’re doing more and more pop-up exhibitions and mall takeovers. And something I’m excited about this summer is an outdoor Sesame Street family fun run, which we’ll be hosting in multiple markets across Southeast Asia. It’s an opportunity for parents and kids to run together and promotes the importance of being active and exercise which are fundamental to healthy habits, which has been core to Sesame Street for many years.

We are here at Licensing Expo 2019 in Las Vegas. What are some of the key updates and announcements from Sesame Street and Sesame Workshop that you can share with us?

As I mentioned before, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary, and our reputation as the pre-eminent preschool organization and brand in the world. Once again we have been named as one of Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative Companies in 2019, and ranked #2 in the Social Good Category. We’re excited about our strategic partnership with Apple, and how that is developing. We did a video with Yaritza Aparico, the Oscar nominated star of Roma, which resulted in one of our biggest social media posts ever. And looking ahead to the future, we’re really excited about the new Sesame Street theatrical feature film in development with Warner Brothers.

Finally, what can we look out for in the second half of 2019 and early 2020 from Sesame Workshop?

We’re developing new spin-off content featuring the core Sesame Street characters. We recently launched a new campaign focused on Respect, and this is something we’re looking to expand into Asia-Pacific. We’re on fire in the Theme Park category. At SeaWorld Orlando, there’s an all new immersive Sesame Street land with character interaction featuring both digital and physical interactive experiences, 30 attractions and experiences including 6 rides along with wet and dry play areas & daily parade. We extended our partnership with Spanish theme park PortAventura World, with significantly expanded brand experiences including an all new, state-of-the-art indoor ride attraction.

Our Sesame Street Live touring show in North America has had the best year since 2012, and is on track to reach 700,000 consumers this year. In Australia, as mentioned, an all new concept is being developed by Showtime Attractions. And we’re humbled and honored that former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama will be at this year’s Sesame Street Gala. In all my time, working at Sesame Workshop, I have never been more excited about our future than I am today.