Just like some characters on the shows, soap operas have died, and come back to life. Though I penned a story about the death of soaps back in May, an official press release put out Thursday by ABC announced media and production company Prospect Park (co-founded by former Disney Studio head Rich Frank, and Jeff Kwatinetz) will continue production of “All My Children” and “One Life to Live”– online.
This is seemingly good for fans, who had no shortage of criticism for the network when it announced the shows would both be axed by 2012. (“Please don’t cancel the ABC soaps!” wrote username dwhit70 on a forum. “These are my therapy! I look forward to folding my laundry while watching my soaps as my dailey [sic] escape”). In the press release, Frank and Kwatinetz stated people want flexibility as to when and how they view the shows, which will stay in their current hour format, and that the online platform will attract a new audience.
Will it work? Denise Bielby, a professor of sociology at the University of California who co-authored the 1995 book “Soap Fans” says though it’s too soon to tell, moving online is consistent with the rest of the entertainment industry. A study by Yahoo shows that 18% of online videos watched online are full length TV shows (compared with 11% two years ago) and there’s been a 30% increase in viewership during prime-time.
Though viewing habits are shifting, soaps are a genre with firm roots in the domestic (they were originally designed to peddle cleaning products to bored housewives by incorporating brand names in the plot). Are they still relevant to young people, and can soaps make the move online without alienating their core, older audience?
“There’s a technological hurdle to overcome” says Bielby from her office in California. “When you watch traditional television it’s a comfortable and easy thing. If people know how to stream from their laptops and have the show on in the background the way soaps are traditionally watched in homes, the transition will be a bit easier. But it all depends on their comfort level.” In terms of roping in a younger audience, Bielby is skeptical, noting viewing demographics have been skewing older and older. “Soaps have basically become a niche form of television,” she says. “Since women no longer spend their careers at home, they haven’t been able to pass on the tradition [of watching soaps to their kids] which was so important to bringing in a new generation of viewers.”
Bielby does say the move online could be good for business, since advertisers prefer the prospect of getting in front of younger viewers. Though the genre is getting a second chance, rest assured somewhere, dead desperate housewives are rolling in their graves, thinking of young women (and men, gasp!) watching soaps on screens the size of their watches on a crowded bus back from a long day’s work. The real death is tradition.