By Sharon Edry
Special to TelevisionWeek
SoapNet executives recently received the perfect gift in honor of the network’s fifth birthday-figures from Nielsen Media Research that showed the 24-hour cable channel has surpassed the 40 million-household-subscribers milestone. It was a gain of more than 4.6 million subscribers, or 13 percent, over the previous year.
The numbers add up to substantial growth over a relatively short time period. With several other networks vying for female viewers, including Oxygen, WE and Lifetime, the fact that SoapNet is consistently in the top 10 among women ages 18 to 49 seems to prove that suds definitely sell.
“It’s a tribute to the brand, the content and the concept of serving the soap fan in a way that’s unique and compelling,” said Sean Bratches, president of affiliate sales and marketing for Disney and ESPN Networks. “We believe SoapNet’s distribution growth will continue at a torrid pace. It’s a concept that is easy to articulate to our affiliates and has clearly resonated with soap fans.”
In The Walt Disney Co., SoapNet has a powerful parent helping to drive distribution, but Deborah Blackwell, the network’s general manager, said the channel’s programming stands on its own. “For a new network, we have fairly robust original offerings,” she said.
“SoapNet’s value proposition was proven by its immediate strong ratings,” Ms. Blackwell said, “but we made a promise that we would offer more than just re-purposing ABC soap operas, and we’ve kept that and feel good about what has been a continual strengthening of our programming.”
Soap fans, known for their devotion to their favorite daytime dramas, have responded enthusiastically. “This is almost a viral category from a consumer standpoint, Mr. Bratches said. “It drives significant demand up through distribution channels. The compelling content drives local ad sales opportunities and is a great retention vehicle.”
SoapNet continues to increase its presence on cable systems, receiving a service fee from affiliates per subscriber per month, and the network’s carriage continues to advance through migration from digital tiers to analog basic. One big boost: DirecTV recently added SoapNet to its Total Choice package, which boasts 12 million subscribers.
Over the next five years SoapNet’s challenge is to expand, especially into platforms such as broadband, pay-per-view and video-on-demand, Mr. Bratches said. A second SoapNet network is also a possibility, with Disney- owned ESPN providing a successful expansion model, according to Ms. Blackwell.
“They are a powerful brand leveraging among multiple platforms,” she said. “And when there’s that kind of passion about the subject matter, there’s a great opportunity during this exciting time of change and growth.”
If a second network is established, an alluring goal of same-day re-airing all nine daytime soaps would become more feasible. Currently, SoapNet reruns all three ABC daytime dramas and NBC’s “Days of Our Lives.”
“We would love to have them all. I think it would be terrific,” Ms. Blackwell said.
In the meantime, SoapNet is reveling in its success and focusing on full distribution.
“Our affiliates are looking for avenues to reach out and touch their subscribers, especially those who are willing to go to any lengths to seek out content,” Mr. Bratches said. “We firmly believe that we’ve got a brand, a constituency and content that will support continued explosive growth.”