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What Women Watch: SoapNet Fills a Niche, Builds a Winning Model

Nov 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Allison J. Waldman

Special to TelevisionWeek

Soap operas have always appealed to female viewers, and on cable, the choice for soaps is clear. SoapNet is the premier outlet for American daytime dramas, re-airing daily episodes of five of the most popular soap operas-“All My Children,” “Days of Our Lives,” “One Life to Live,” “General Hospital” and “The Young and the Restless”-for viewing in prime time.

In addition, the network offers original programming about the genre, such as the reality show “I Wanna Be a Soap Star,” and classic episodes of past daytime and prime-time soaps. “We are the No. 1 destination for female soap fans on television,” said Deborah Blackwell, executive VP and general manager of SoapNet.

SoapNet’s success proves that daytime dramas shown conveniently a second and third time in prime time and late-night works. But when the idea of a cable network that would replay daily soap opera episodes was considered 10 years ago, industry experts declared the concept ludicrous. “The people in power at the time believed a channel like SoapNet would be the end of daytime dramas,” said Mary Ann Cooper, who has penned the syndicated column “Speaking of Soaps” for more than 25 years. “They predicted that women would stop watching during the day if they could see the soaps at night. They were wrong.”

“With so many women working today, SoapNet provides the perfect way to keep up with the daytime dramas that they don’t have time to watch during the day,” Ms. Blackwell said. The numbers back up her words: September 2006 marked the 29th consecutive month that SoapNet ranked No. 1 in frequency of viewing among women 18 to 49 (3.55 days per month). SoapNet is in more than 53 million homes and has grown 22 percent in distribution year to year, making it the second-fastest-growing cable network.

Since it began in 2000, SoapNet has evolved. Initially, the network was strictly an ABC satellite, rerunning only the three ABC daytime dramas. NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” was added to SoapNet in 2004, followed earlier this year by CBS’s “The Young and the Restless”-which has been the top daytime drama in the Nielsen ratings since 1988.

“That was a turning point,” Ms. Blackwell said. “Getting `Y&R’ was significant. It was the first CBS soap we’ve added and it’s the No. 1 show in daytime. That was when we felt SoapNet had really achieved its goal, representing all three networks with the top soaps.”

“SoapNet has captured the best of daytime and shows it in prime time,” Ms. Cooper said. “That’s a remarkable feat, getting NBC and CBS to come on board.”

With five hour-long soaps dominating the schedule, SoapNet has considered expanding should it land any of the other daytime dramas on CBS and NBC. A second SoapNet channel, along the lines of ESPN’s ESPN2, has been contemplated. “If we were to get the P&G soaps-`Guiding Light’ and `As the World Turns’-as well as `The Bold and the Beautiful’ and `Passions,’ we’d have to make a place to air them,” Ms. Blackwell said.

Younger Appeal

SoapNet has also successfully explored other kinds of programming that appeals to women. “We have a block of `Melrose Place’ and `Beverly Hills 90210′ airing every afternoon from 4 to 7 that’s very popular with our viewers,” Ms. Blackwell said. “90210” and “Melrose Place” skew high in the younger female demographics.

SoapNet also airs “Dallas” as well as former Daytime Emmy winners such as “Another World” and “Ryan’s Hope.” “For true soap opera fans, SoapNet is a godsend,” Ms. Cooper said. “There’s nowhere else to see reruns of daytime soaps. Nowhere. They’re not available on DVDs even. SoapNet has a unique opportunity to serve the fans of this genre.”

SoapNet plans to celebrate one of the most enduring couples of the genre, “General Hospital’s” Luke and Laura, throughout the month of November. Twenty-five years ago this month, the soap characters created by Anthony Geary and Genie Francis were married on-air in the most-watched soap opera episode of all time. Now, coinciding with the return of Ms. Francis to “General Hospital,” both ABC and SoapNet are saluting Luke and Laura.

“SoapNet has a unique opportunity to `toast’ this milestone anniversary,” Ms. Blackwell said. “During the month, SoapNet will be `everything Luke and Laura,’ airing a variety of special programming. This is a great time to reconnect with `General Hospital.”‘

On Nov. 24 SoapNet will devote the entire night to a Luke and Laura marathon called “Luke and Laura 25: Something Old, Something New.” Favorite episodes, such as the duo’s romantic night trapped in Wyndham’s Department Store, will be shown, culminating with their wedding, in which Elizabeth Taylor guest-starred as villainess Helena Cassadine.

The evening will end with the premiere of a new one-hour original special, “Luke and Laura: The Love Story Revealed,” hosted by Mr. Geary and Ms. Francis. The actors will share stories about their characters’ relationship over the years, the celebrity they’ve enjoyed because of the soap, and how Luke and Laura’s wedding changed their lives forever.

“There’s no question in my mind that women will tune in to watch that marathon or set their DVRs to get it all recorded,” Ms. Cooper said.

SoapNet will also take part in another major ABC soap promotion, the Super Soap Weekend on Nov. 11-12 at Disney World. “All My Children’s” Cameron Matheson, who hosts SoapNet’s “I Wanna Be a Soap Star,” will host a live version of the show at Super Soap Weekend, Ms. Blackwell said. “He’ll be inviting fans from the audience to do a scene with soap opera actors,” she said. “They’ll tape the best six people who do scenes throughout the weekend and put them online so fans at home can vote on who gave the best performance. Last year, that winner was given a walk-on role on `I Wanna Be a Soap Star.”‘

The Super Soap Weekend is also an opportunity for SoapNet to promote new technology. “We will have a SoapNet booth where we’ll be showcasing Soapnetic, the first-ever broadband channel dedicated to soap fans,” Ms. Blackwell said.

Soapnetic presents classic and original programming in addition to comprehensive coverage of all nine current shows. It also offers two original lifestyle mini-vignette exclusives, “My Hometown” and “Beyond Soaps,” as well as the world premiere of the new season of SoapNet’s “One Minute Soaps.” The broadband service is accessible to Verizon Online consumer broadband customers.