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Disney-ABC Owns the Day

Soap ownership is key to success in down market 3/28/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern



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At a time when shaky ratings have led some to question the soap genre, Disney-ABC's daytime division is quietly pitching advertisers this upfront season that soaps are here to stay.

Daytime ratings were down about 10% last year—not good news for the $1.2 billion business. And ABC's soaps have faced ratings drops like the others. But the network differs from its competitors in its ability to weather ratings woes, making them less of a drain on the bottom line.

The difference is, since Disney-ABC owns its three soaps, it can quickly and creatively integrate advertisers' products into shows. Plus, the company monetizes daytime content by putting it onto sister cable network Soapnet—currently undergoing a makeover of its own to encompass all soapy fare and not just traditional dramas—and selling it abroad through sister studio Buena Vista Productions.

“I want to look at our business as a studio business,” says Disney-ABC Daytime President Brian Frons, who oversees the daytime shows, Soapnet and the Buena Vista studio. The division produces some 1,000 hours of original programming per year, including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Ebert & Roeper.

“Our job is to get as many people watching us as possible—daytime, Soapnet, international. It's a more holistic revenue-driven model and gives people the confidence to know we're sticking around. Advertisers do like having this platform to reach women on an efficient basis, so they need to know that.”

Efficient is right. In meetings with advertisers currently going on, the division is pointing out to clients that while soaps' overall ratings may be down, their viewer base is highly devoted and, according to research, more likely to remain watching through the commercials. On average, among women 18-49, daytime has a higher C3 percent retention than prime—103% to 98%, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Because ABC owns its shows, it can more easily and quickly facilitate product integration deals. Last year, Campbell's worked its “Go Red” campaign to promote heart health into all three ABC soaps as well as The View, and the network is pitching similar synergies this year.

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In addition to bolstering daytime with such ad deals, the company is broadening its plan for Soapnet, moving it from being a home for soap opera reruns to one for original content, as well as more acquired primetime soaps and movie dramas. The network has bought a packet of small to midsize movies to add to its Sunday night movie franchise: Romy and Michelle: In the Beginning; I Do, They Don't; Face on the Milk Carton; Relative Chaos; and I Want to Marry Ryan Banks.

Soapnet is also moving forward with Relative Madness, six hour-long specials this summer on the most over-the-top TV and celebrity families, with commentary from talent including comedian Joy Behar, dancer Chris Judd, and mother/daughter socialites Lisa and Britney Gastineau.

“We wanted to recognize the fact that we live in a soap nation—primetime soaps, daytime soaps, Britney Spears soaps,” says Frons. Soapnet currently programs 40 hours of original programming a week, and Frons says he would like to double that number over the next two years.

“America has been getting their soap fix in a lot of different ways other than or in addition to the daily soaps, and so we're reflecting that on the channel, all with a soapy filter—otherwise it's just another women's network.”



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