SoapNet at 5: Rocketing Ad Sales ‘A Good Problem’

May 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Amy Helmes

Special to TelevisionWeek

The main problem facing SoapNet’s sales department these days, according to Senior VP of SoapNet Sales Heidi Lobel, is trying to satisfy the growing number of advertisers looking to buy time on the Disney-owned network.

“The biggest challenge we face is accommodating all of the budgets that are coming in, because we have more demand at this point than we expected,” Ms. Lobel said. “It’s a very good problem.”

In the past year, she said, the network has increased its advertising base by 100 percent, doubling the number of scatter advertisers with each passing quarter.

“This year, for the first time, we found ourselves sold out weeks before the quarter ended,” said Ms. Lobel, who has doubled her sales staff since January 2004. “What surprised me about this was that, to my knowledge, the rest of the cable marketplace wasn’t in the same place. SoapNet was in a unique position.”

Managing an influx of new advertisers can be tricky, given the pre-existing deals with companies who jumped on the network’s bandwagon early on. “We have a number of advertisers that have been with us since the beginning, that certainly have very advantageous deals,” Ms. Lobel said. “So it’s about trying to balance our old, low-base advertisers with all of the new money that’s coming in. That’s a challenge every successful cable network has experienced as they emerge from birth status, if you will.”

SoapNet became all-ad-supported in the fall of 2001, a few months shy of the network’s second birthday. While this was a faster timeline than is typical for most start-ups, General Manager Deborah Blackwell said she felt confident about making the switch when predictions about strong ratings and a built-in audience started to pan out.

“It was right in the aftermath of 9/11,” Ms. Blackwell said. “We considered postponing [the paid-advertising launch] because it was such a fragile time in our economy, but I’m glad we went forward.”

Broad Stable of Advertisers

Breaking the rule of thumb that national advertisers won’t sign on to a network until it reaches at least 40 million homes, SoapNet garnered early sponsorships from a variety of major advertisers, such as JCPenney, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. Over time, the network’s impressive ratings have helped attract a broad range of advertisers, specifically in the categories of retail, pharmaceutical, packaged goods and beauty care. Even traditionally male-oriented Miller Brewing Co. recently saw the merits of relaying its message through SoapNet.

Ms. Lobel cited the network’s broad programming schedule as helping to attract new categories. “It’s because it’s not just daytime [soaps] that we air,” she explained. “It’s also off-prime kinds of soaps like `Melrose Place,’ `Beverly Hills 90210,’ `Dallas’ and `Dynasty.’ That’s certainly one of the reasons why these traditionally nondaytime advertisers are starting to flock to us.”

Nielsen Media Research placed SoapNet at No. 6 among cable networks for February among women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, far outpacing competitors such as Oxygen and WE. Also based on February data, SoapNet was the No. 1 cable network for frequency of viewing among women 18 to 49, averaging 414 minutes per month.

“If advertisers are concerned about tune-in, the soap genre is very compelling, because the viewers tend to be more involved in soaps and they tend to be more attentive,” Ms. Lobel said.

SoapNet’s audience also has more spending power than many advertisers might realize, Ms. Blackwell said. “Fifty-two percent of our women viewers 18 to 49 have household incomes of over $50,000, and 77 percent are working women,” she said. “It means we’re providing our advertisers with a different audience than they get when they buy during the day [from the broadcast networks].”

Shari Cohen, co-executive director of national broadcast for MindShare, said SoapNet has a positive reputation among media buyers and advertisers. “In an effort to drive revenue, they’ve been willing to do some on-air things that have been somewhat unique,” Ms. Cohen said.

Customizing Promotions

As an example, she pointed to the “One Minute Soaps” microseries, produced in conjunction with Match.com and Monster.com. The six-episode vignettes integrated the dot-com companies into their story lines, with characters using the sites to further their romantic aims. “We are poised to customize promotions and different marketing sponsorships to satisfy an advertiser’s objective,” Ms. Lobel said, adding that personalization is a key strategy for the network.

For this year’s upfronts, Ms. Lobel’s team will focus on individualized presentations rather than one big, eye-popping event. “I’m very sensitive to that because the agencies get bombarded with presentations from networks,” she said. “If we do smaller, personalized things, that is more impactful and meaningful as opposed to forcing them to a `Come watch us’ event.”

Andy Donchin, executive VP and director of national broadcast for Carat, agreed that SoapNet’s willingness to collaborate with sponsors gives the network extra clout. “If you want to do something creative and try to reach a loyal audience, they’ll work with you hand in hand to get something done,” he said. “They’re very efficient on a cost-per-thousand basis.

“They are growing, and they do reach an audience. That’s appealing to us,” Mr. Donchin said.