Little Change, More Dollars

Network daytime TV is undergoing a recovery on several fronts. After six straight years of viewer erosion, the daypart has essentially held its audience across the key ratings measures so far this season.

Selling Daytime
Combined total for ABC, CBS and NBC, 1999-2003
Year to Year
Year Ad Sales Chng.
Sources: Broadcast Cable Financial Management/Ernst & Young, for 1999-2002.
Estimate for 2003 provided by network and agency sources.
2003$890 million+6%
2002$841 million-6%
2001$896 million-10%
2000$1.00 billion-4%
1999$1.04 billion-6%

Advertisers seem to have rediscovered the daypart as well. In the late 1990s, network daytime was as a billion-dollar-plus business. But as viewers found other diversions, ad dollars followed them out of the daylight.

By 2002, the pool of ad money flowing to the network daytime lineups fell to $840 million, according to figures compiled by Ernst & Young and released by the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association. Both cable and syndication had taken their toll.

A year later, for the first time in half a decade, more dollars flowed back into the daypart. Estimates are that advertisers spent close to $900 million on network daytime in 2003, up more than 6% from 2002.

Some of those dollars were shifted from budgets originally earmarked for super-pricey prime time. In some cases, though, advertisers were just taking greater advantage of the great buy that daytime has become.

"It's a very hot daypart for the first time in a while," says Andy Donchin, senior vice president, director of national broadcast, Carat. "I really think a lot of people have rediscovered daytime. It's still the most efficient way to reach women." The cost-per-thousand viewers price for daytime, he indicates, is probably less than half that of prime time.

And that's with the nearly double-digit rate hike daytime got in last year's upfront marketplace.

"Daytime has been a 'negotiable' daypart for the past few years," he says "so that, even with the aggressive increase this past upfront, it's still not greatly above what we're paying five or six years ago."

David Poltrack, executive vice price, research and planning, CBS, calls daytime a "bargain daypart. It's very attractive from a CPM basis and has a loyal audience."

And Donchin says audience loyalty is a real benefit because, if the viewers are involved in the shows they are more likely to be involved in the commercials.

The fact is, daytime hasn't changed much. Syndication may try new talk shows, but the networks haven't tried much new at all.

Daytime soaps are like the Energizer Bunny: They just keep going and going and, network executives say, will continue to be the dominant daytime genre for years to come. Of course, Bob Barker is an Energizer Bunny in his own right. At 80, he just signed on to do a 33rd season of CBS's The Price Is Right
game show.

For the most part, soaps rule the daypart, as they have for more than 50 years. CBS airs The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful,
Guiding Light
and As the World Turns. NBC airs Days of Our Lives
(recently renewed through 2009) and Passions. ABC airs All My Children, One Life to Live
and General Hospital.

The key to longevity? Two things, says ABC Daytime President Brian Frons. "The first is pure economics. Cable and syndicators are unwilling to deal with the start-up costs of the soaps. They don't want to invest $50 million in program costs alone, not including marketing and not including distribution, so the genre has remained unique to the networks."

Second, he says, soap fans have a "fanatical relationship" with the characters in the shows. "It's a unique bond."

Still, the genre has its challenges, says Frons, who has been a network daytime executive on and off for 25 years, having started with CBS in 1979 and served stints at each of the Big Three. It was easier once, when there were just three networks and not much cable competition. "In the old days," he notes, "the fight was between three gorillas. Today, it's more about fighting off a pack of very small and very fast terriers."

Twenty years ago, he says, "pretty much everyone knew that my shows existed and had some sense of them. Today, I think a significant portion of the population of women under 34 are somewhat unaware of my programs or my competitors' programs because those women grew up with cable and had far more choice. So we have to work harder at creating a profile for ourselves outside of our normal daytime promotional slots. Since I've been here, we've bought commercial time on MTV, local and network radio, and print ads in the Star, [National] Enquirer
and various soap publications."

Keeping the storylines fresh and compelling is a lot harder but critical to the mission, executives say.

"Our [competitors] on daytime TV make that job harder with every passing year," says Sheraton Kalouria, senior vice president, daytime programs, NBC. The escapades of Ben and J-Lo were basically an 18-month-long soap opera, he points out. "Whether it's the outlandish topic of some of the more tabloid-oriented talk shows or the more salacious and bizarre stories that are on the network news shows. How do you compete with the Scott Peterson trial? You can't make that stuff up."

But they come close. All three networks have had storylines on at least one soap dealing with serial killers in the past year.

Besides serials, only two other shows are on the daytime lineups: The Price Is Right
on CBS and The View
on ABC.

Barbara Bloom, senior vice president, daytime programs, CBS, says the network is committed to the current four soaps and Price Is Right. "I'm not looking at developing anything right now. My focus is what's on the air and growing what's on the air."

She says CBS wants Barker to host the show as long as wants to. But, when he decides to call it quits, she says, "we will be prepared to step up to the plate and protect the franchise."