When Sesame Street premiered in 1969, it aired on only 67.6% of American televisions, but it earned a 3.3 Nielsen rating, which totaled 1.9 million households. By the show’s tenth anniversary in 1979, 9 million American children under the age of six were watching Sesame Street daily. According to a 1993 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, out of the show’s 6.6 million viewers, 2.4 million kindergartners regularly watched it. 77% of preschoolers watched it once a week, and 86% of kindergartners and first- and second-grade students had watched it once a week before starting school. The show reached most young children in almost all demographic groups.
The show’s ratings significantly decreased in the early 1990s, resulting from changes in children’s viewing habits and in the television marketplace. The producers responded by making large-scale structural changes to the show. By 2006, Sesame Street had become “the most widely viewed children’s television show in the world”, with 20 international independent versions and broadcasts in over 120 countries. A 1996 survey found that 95% of all American preschoolers had watched the show by the time they were three years old. In 2008, it was estimated that 77 million Americans had watched the series as children. By the show’s 40th anniversary in 2009, it was ranked the fifteenth most popular children’s show on television.