Disney Nets’ Upfronts Take Off

Feb 13, 2006  •  Post A Comment

For its first upfront event, SoapNet is turning ad buyers into soap stars.

The Disney-owned network recruited clients and agency executives to appear in a short film that will be screened this week at the SoapNet upfront, which will be held at the Pacha nightclub, a current hot spot in New York.

SoapNet, which plans to announce production of 20 new episodes of its original series “Soapography” and another season of its microseries “One Minute Soap,” believes the event will help it build more of a separate identity from ABC Daytime, which runs soap operas during daytime on the broadcast network.

“As SoapNet has grown so much over the course of the past few years, we’ve really looked to position SoapNet in the ad community as a viable women’s cable network and to brand ourselves and market ourselves in a much more substantial and meaningful way,” said Heidi Lobel, senior VP of SoapNet and ABC Daytime sales.

“We are certainly stepping up our sales effort,” Ms. Lobel said. Although SoapNet is sold by ABC Daytime sales, it is adding more salespeople responsible only for the cable networks. Gerry O’Malley was recently named VP of SoapNet sales, making him the highest-ranking sales staffer dedicated to SoapNet.

As a 24-hour cable network, SoapNet has different viewers than the daytime audience the ABC soaps reach and has many clients that do not advertise in daytime. SoapNet deals are separate from ABC Daytime deals, with their own cost base and guarantees, she said.

Ms. Lobel hopes the upfront event will help reinforce a hip image for the network.

“I think we want to be able to impart that notion to our buyers and rather than go to the agencies and sit in their conference room and bring a bunch of slides and presentations, we thought it better to have them in an environment that would totally embrace SoapNet’s personality,” she said.

Sending out the invitations to Pacha alone has created some buzz, she said; certainly more buzz than one more presentation for the agencies to sit through. (SoapNet salespeople will do one-on-one presentations with the agencies and clients following the upfront bash.)

The event also creates a good setting for SoapNet to show the video it shot featuring buyers and clients in addition to its own staff.

The piece, called “SoapNet Presents … A Good Buy to Remember,” features ABC Sales President Mike Shaw as a high-ranking executive who is stricken with, what else?, amnesia. Among those surrounding him are Kaki Hinton, VP of advertising services for Pfizer Consumer Products, as his vindictive ex-wife; Mike Giarraputo, media director of television for Johnson & Johnson, as a specialist in amnesia disorders; Bruce Cohen, managing partner and director of national broadcast for Mediaedge:cia, and Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, senior VP and director of broadcast investment for Starcom, as detectives; Tim Spengler, executive VP and director of national broadcast for Initiative, as Mr. Shaw’s scheming second-in-command; and Donna Speciale, president of U.S. broadcast and programming for MediaVest USA, as a naughty nurse in a low-cut white uniform.

The show is also filled with liberal amounts of product placement. Ms. Speciale quaffs a Coke, Ms. Hinton proffers a Listerine strip and Mr. Giarraputo flashes some Tylenol PM.

Ms. Lobel, who appears as Mr. Shaw’s maid and illegitimate daughter, found appearing in front of the camera frightening. “I just had three lines,” she said. “Think about what these soap stars do in an overnight situation. The pages and pages of dialogue they learn.” Although she did a lot of acting in summer camp, “Certainly that will not be an option for me if this gig doesn’t work out.”

She said getting the high-powered executives from the ad world to the set was much easier than she expected. So many people agreed to be in the film that the script needed to be expanded, she said.

“Everyone has that inner fantasy about being a star,” Ms. Lobel said. “I think they were able to play out their fantasy of being a soap diva.”

Hopefully, they’ll also remember the facts and figures about SoapNet woven into the scripts.

“There’s never a shortage of ideas to help keep network brands top of mind with clients-this is certainly a creative one and a lot of fun,” Mr. Spengler said.

Meanwhile, Disney’s kids’ networks held an upfront presentation of their own last week in New York.

Disney said it plans to make full episodes of some of its kids programming available online. Beginning in the spring kids can log on to disneychannel.com and jetix.tv and stream episodes of “That’s So Raven,” “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” “Kim Possible,” “Power Rangers” and “Super Robot Money Team Hyperforce Go!” The shows will be available free on-demand.

Video content on the Web sites will be accompanied by advertisements, with advertisers having the ability to stream full-length or customized spots adjacent to the series content in addition to fixed, banner-style advertising on the Web sites.

Disney said it added the animated show “The Replacements” and the live-action “Hanna Montana” to the ABC Kids block on Saturday mornings in September. “Power Rangers: Mystic Force” will be added as well. Next season, the male-skewing Jetix block will no longer appear on ABC Family and will air only on Toon Disney.

Disney Channel plans to televise “The Cheetah Girls 2” starring Raven next season.