23 September 2011

The Prospects for Soap Streams

Today, ABC closes the book on the soap opera “All My Children” after 41 years on the air. Will this final broadcast be the end of stories stemming from Pine Valley, PA?  Much like the last episode, this question ends with a cliffhanger.

Soap operas became a staple of daytime television in the 1950s. These televised melodramas were meant to appeal to housewives who yearned for glamorous, romantic stories which contrasted with their ordinary quotidian duties managing their households.  Soaps got their nickname from sponsorship by household product companies, such as Proctor & Gamble, which bought many ads during these daytime serials.

Soap operas engendered devoted audiences, not just from captive audience housewives.  Soap devotees have been known to schedule the days of their lives (sic) or even their college class schedule around their favorite serials.  In the 1980s, people actually learned to program their VCRs to get their daily fix of soaps.  In 2000, ABC/Disney launched SOAPnet, so that soap devotees could time shift their soap viewing without a VCR. 

As the world turns (sic), viewing tastes shifted.  This summer, Disney announced that SOAPnet would evolve into Disney Jr. Channel in January, but this closure has been temporarily postponed.  In April, ABC announced the end of two thirds of its daytime soap schedule, cancelling “All My Children” in September in favor of   “The Chew” (a show celebrating life through food) and axing “One Life to Live” for “The Revolution” (a daily show about health and lifestyle transformations) in January 2012. 

As the long suffering spouse of a soap addict, the daytime denouement is less interesting than the prospective future business model.  ABC licensed the online distribution rights of “One Life to Live” and “All My Children” to Prospect Park Productions.  Starting in January 2012, these soaps are expected to be produced and delivered to consumers online and also through emerging formats, such as internet connected televisions or smart phones. 

By ending the broadcast of most soaps, ABC will save by programming inexpensive to produce talk shows.  By licensing soaps to Prospect Park, ABC allows Agnes Nixon’s long running romantic serials more than one life to live (sic) and potentially profit from the loyalty of longtime soap devotees without shouldering the production costs.  Prospect Park follows the guiding light (sic) of a built in audience of loyal viewers to cash in on new revenue models.

Details are sketchy about Prospect Parks plans.  It is unclear as to whether a subscription will be necessary or if there will be commercial sponsorships during the streaming.  The one thing for certain is that Prospect Park will not throw around as much money to the talent.  Young and restless (sic) actors now need  to calculate whether a slashed paycheck is better than no paycheck at all from the soaps or if they can find roles elsewhere.

Recently, Glenn Beck jumped to the internet from his comfortable 5 PM slot on Fox News Channel. Beck wanted to own his own production and distribution channel so that he could say what he wanted and encourage his viewers into action.  GBTV is more than an internet organ grinder, as Beck plans to offer many programs aside from his eponymous show.  Moreover, GBTV uses MLB technology which gives a HD picture and streams the shows on Roku as well as computer viewing.   Beck premiered his show on GBTV on September 12th using a subscription model. It is too soon to tell if Beck was a media visionary or a digital idiot, but some estimate that GBTV could earn $137 million a year.

It will be curious to see if the Prospect Park versions of “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” will mainstream internet stream niche-casting or if these shows will be short run shadows of their former selves.  It has been reported that Susan Lucci has turned down continuing her role as Erica Kane when “All My Children” begins its internet run.  Well, at least she won an Emmy after 21 tries in 1999.

It is dubious that older viewers will be comfortable in jumping through the digital hoops to continue their entertainment viewing.  Loyal younger viewers may bristle at the prospect of having to pay for something that had been free.  And cheapened production values might look horrible on high definition internet streaming. 

The Great and the Least,
The Rich and the Poor,
The Weak and the Strong,
In Sickness and in Health, 
In Joy and Sorrow,
In Tragedy and in Triumph,

To be continued...?

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