ABC Daytime Makes Cash Call

Oct 24, 2005  •  Post A Comment

ABC Daytime, coming off a 2004-05 season in which it won every time period it programmed among women 18 to 49 and gained 4 percent among female teens, is expected to announce today its latest initiative designed to create new revenue streams and connections to viewers.

The ABC Mobile Store, available via ABC.com and a toll-free number, offers wallpaper, screen savers and theme-song ringtones that can be downloaded on ABC fans’ cellphones. Coming soon will be voice tones in addition to the musical ringtones.

“We’re using the success on the traditional broadcast [platform] to drive other businesses,” said ABC Daytime President Brian Frons, whose team managed to contain 18 to 49 erosion in 2004-05.

Last year’s big drive was the launch of a modestly priced fragrance inspired by Enchantment, the fictional perfume created as part of a story line on “All My Children.” Enchantment became the top-selling holiday fragrance at Wal-Mart. That success led to an “All My Children” Fusion fragrance line and lip gloss, which became available this month at Wal-Mart and other major retailers.

Early sales data from Wal-Mart is expected to be available this week.

As for Enchantment, Mr. Frons did not share sales figures, but he said, “As far as I know, the Enchantment perfume was … financially speaking, the biggest ancillary product ever created by ABC Daytime TV.”

In recent weeks the mobile store has been in soft-launch mode. In that short time the “General Hospital” theme was the most downloaded ringtone and “GH” characters Jason Morgan (played by Steve Burton) was No. 1 and Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) No. 2 among downloaded character images.

The Oct. 12 return of popular “GH” character Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough) was accompanied by a daily blog penned by the HIV-positive character, a first for a network soap but a logical sequel to the 1995 best seller “Robin’s Diary.”

In its first week, “Robin’s Daily Dose” registered more than 150,000 hits.

“One Life to Live” also spun off a best-selling book, “The Killing Club,” published by in February by Disney-owned imprint Hyperion.

ABC Daytime is talking with Hyperion about spinning off a book from “All My Children.”

“We’re interviewing writers. We’ll probably know more in about three months,” Mr. Frons said.

Another ABC mobile initiative is the subscription service Soap Confidential ($1.99 per month per show), which offers challenges and “insider news alerts.” Subscribers were beeped two weeks ago with the news that heartthrob Rick Springfield would reappear Dec. 2 on “GH” as Dr. Noah Drake, the character he created nearly 25 year ago.

Mr. Frons took over ABC Daytime in 2002. Shortly thereafter he launched a weekly Internet Hot Sheet, which promotes ABC programming and projects but which was designed to evolve into an ad-supported newsletter. It has a subscriber base of more than 700,000 readers-more than any of the traditional soap opera magazines-and is aiming for more than 1 million.

Mr. Frons came to ABC Daytime after six years at SBS Broadcasting, working in Europe, where he oversaw “Big Brother” in eight countries and learned a lot about what hard-core fans are willing to spend money on. A cellphone message when a particularly hunky housemate was going to be in the shower on the broadband feed was one service that quickly became a hit.

“We started a service we made a decent amount of money on, and this is sort of the soap opera equivalent of that experience from six years ago,” said Mr. Frons, who feels that as he pushes ABC Daytime forward technologically, he is catching up to what he has already seen work in Europe.

For now, he projects “incremental” revenue from these ancillary new media businesses-“Ad revenue is still No. 1.”-but he believes there is a pot of gold at the end of the mobile content and personalization rainbow.

“I can tell you from the European experience, ringtones is a big business. There are Web sites all over Europe that make their living downloading ringtones,” he said. “Same thing with screen savers and wallpaper, so this is a real business and a lot of European companies have come here and are starting to get into this business. There is money to be made here.”

Of course, an ancillary business is unlikely to be any stronger than the root business.

So Mr. Frons and his programming team constantly examine their three ABC-owned soaps for necessary plot and cast tweaks. They look far enough ahead to plan big sweeps stunts-a big wedding followed by a major train crash on “General Hospital”; a prison riot on “One Life to Live” when a character tries to break an innocent man out of the lock-up.

To those who say, “Sounds like someone has been watching ‘Prison Break,'” Mr. Frons said good-naturedly, “Maybe Fox was watching ‘One Life to Live,’ because Cristian [played by David Fumero] went into prison in February.”

But he added, “The most interesting piece of our time is spent trying to figure out where things are going. For some people, soaps are a yesterday proposition. Part of our job is making the brand, making the shows, making soap operas a very today thing.”