Friday, December 19, 2008

The Template for Saving Daytime, Part 2

In my last post, I suggested that Marland's Rules, plus a few others, were essentially being used by Maria Arena Bell to "save" the Young and The Restless. The show had become mired in sensationalistic plots, changing characters (e.g., Nikki now a senatorial candidate???), and a general disorganization that did not bode well for the future. I suggested that Maria Arena Bell and her team have "saved" the show creatively.

But "saving" a show creatively IS NOT equivalent to saving it financially. The primetime landscape is littered with shows that were very good--often critically successful--that didn't last more than a few episodes.

In the world of commercial TV, the only way a show can survive is to attract enough (of the right kind of) eyeballs to make it appealing to advertisers to pay the freight. With ever shrinking numbers of viewers, the traditional broadcast advertiser-supported model is getting trickier and tricker to uphold.

In his remarkable interview with Maria Arena Bell and Paul Rauch, from which I quoted heavily in my last post, Nelson Branco also revealed that this leader has keen insights into the evolution of the business model. I believe she is on the right track regarding how to save daytime financially too. Now...if only someone would listen!

What the rest of this show suggests is that the Bell team has figured out a way to maximize viewership using a mix of quality and sumptuousness, DVR loyalty, cable and internet distribution, and international distribution. In other countries, viewership has been further maximized by moving to late afternoon/early evening time slots (Canada, eh!).

It is up to the media outlets and the advertisers to figure out how to monetize that. Y&R is delivering the eyeballs. By my count, the number is close to 8-10 million daily viewers in the US, and substantially more in international distribution. (CBS claims 5.6 million domestically and about another 4.5 million globally, but I think these are underestimates only count live TV broadcast viewers). Now, it is time for those in charge of making money to capitalize on those well delivered eyeballs.

Here is what I mean:

1. Maintain a unified creative vision and historical integrity

Translation: You have to want to watch the show!

Arena Bells says:
We have a very respectful relationship with the network. But this is my show and my vision.
This is standard for primetime. A showrunner is selected, and the show rises and falls with the showrunner's vision. Of course there is (always, endemically) corporate interference, but there is some respect for the "auteur". Daytime has really let that go in the last two decades.

If the show isn't watchable...if it doesn't produce an enjoyable and coherent experience...people won't tune in. This is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the survival of a soap.

One of the reasons Y&R still 'works' just happened in my home. My parents visited. They haven't watched the show regularly since the late 1980s. But, when I clicked it on, there was Katherine and Jill and Nikki and Victor and Paul and Jack and Ashley and Neil and Brad... Moreover, to the extent that those characters were seen, they all still acted like they used to. Victor was still controlling, and still in his love-hate dance with Nikki. Jack was still trying to bring down the moustache.

Because Y&R offers a consistent feeling of "home" to its loyal viewers, they keep returning. Obviously in ever-shrinking numbers (see below...there are reasons for that)...but more of them keep returning than for any other show.

(I should add that Y&R also manages to remain visually pleasurable to watch. Sumptuous sets and lighting, in crisp widescreen high definition. Y&R has been the trademark 'beautiful' soap from the beginning. It is easier for viewers to keep tuning into something that is a sensual treat, with stirring music, and a wide array of captivating sets...than to watch something that just looks cheap).

But what about the future?

2. Consider changing the timeslots

I have previously written that, in the rest of the world, soaps have mostly left the daytime. In those countries where they are enormously successful, late afternoon/early evening/even primetime berths assure sufficient numbers.

To this, Maria Arena Bell says, in her Branco interview,

All I can tell you is that there is talk about a lot of possibilities. We’ll have to see. As you know, there are constant changes in programming. Look at Jay Leno — he is filling the 10 p.m. slot five days a week! So, who knows?

In my view, the experiment to do is to let Y&R premiere each new episode weeknights at 8 pm (Eastern Time), and then rebroadcast the next day (on CBS) at 12:30 pm (Eastern Time), or the equivalent Central/Mountain/Pacific times. The cost savings for CBS would be enormous...that is five hours of primetime they wouldn't have to program. There would be only relatively small incremental licensing costs to Bell. If CBS follows the "Leno" model, I'd urge them to try it with Y&R. (This would likely mean cancelling the Soapnet deal).

3. On TV: Build it, they will come, and then show the advertisers

Following on what Sara Bibel said, Maria Bell notes in her Branco interview:

If you take into account that a third more viewers are watching our show since that’s the statistic — if you factor in DVR+7 — then the soaps have not taken the dip media analysts have claimed. There are still a lot of eyes on this show. Yesterday, we celebrated 20 years as the No. 1 soap opera in America — along with being No. 1 in all the demos by the widest margin we’ve ever had. Yes, I agree — we need the numbers from viewers who catch us on their computer, DVR, and SOAPnet. Even without those numbers, we’re second only to Oprah in daytime. That’s a lot of eyes! We’re certainly more viable than people give us credit for.
Think about that! It is true. Y&R is usually the #2 show in daytime...overall and with the "desirable" demographic.

Moreover, it gains a large number with those DVR views. I confess I am one of them.

This is a huge audience. The problem is not the show's...they are still delivering the eyeballs.

The flaw is the networks and the advertisers, who have failed to find better ways to capture these fast-forwarding eyeballs. The lack of creativity is on the part of the advertisers and the broadcasters.

Why are none of the successful internet strategies being used on TV? Banner ads? DVR codes that prohibit fast-forwarding (with the quid-pro-quo of fewer and more memorable ads)? Ads that flash a single "slide like" message on you can't miss the message even if you fast forward?

Product placement is also a clever approach, but it has really been done badly so far.

The next few points were not stated by Arena Bell, but are consistent (I believe) with her vision.

4. On the Internet: Build it, they will come, and then show the advertisers

I have mentioned before how broadly Y&R is streaming these days:,,,,

Every one of these is a countable hit, often with a cookie-trackable user, and with the ability to track minute-by-minute tuneouts, fast-forwards, reversals, quits. even recently added a social networking/chat component (dish while you watch). Honestly, it is a data analyst's wet dream. Think of all the rich qualitative data you could get from the chat transcripts!

Interestingly this is all being done with virtually no promotion. My fear is that they don't want to inflame the affiliates.

Technologically, they have already figured out that delivering a smaller number of ads makes the audience happy, and increases the memorability of the ads. The presentations sometimes allow surrounding screens and banners to keep the ad ALWAYS PRESENT during the show. You cannot skip or fast forward the ads...but few fans get upset because the promotions are few in number.

Let us also add that if we could just DUMP the expensive infrastructure of affiliates and broadcast (too many middlemen), it would cost a lot less to deliver these shows over the internet. No FCC licensing.

The infrastructure is there. It is time to stop living in fear of the old media, and to sell-sell-sell the new!

There are clear indications of success in this sphere. In Canada, Y&R was recently listed among the top internet search terms. At, Y&R consistently appears (solely among daytime soaps) as among the "most popular" streaming shows.

I'd add "move to cable" as an option...but...err...Soapnet hasn't exactly embraced soaps these days. I will note, though, that by airing Y&R in "early prime", that show is the number-one rated show for the network. Soapnet may not want soaps anymore...but surely some cable outfit wouldn't mind?

5. Cultivate and maintain an international base

The Bell shows are clear international winners. B&B is the big daddy here, but Y&R does pretty well too. Per the Young and the Restless 35th anniversary fact sheet,
The Young and the Restless international markets include Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, the Middle East, New Zealand, Romania, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey and the U.K.

The Young and the Restless is currently distributed in nearly 30 foreign countries on five continents through Sony Pictures Television International. The episodes currently aired abroad are not concurrent with the episodes airing in the U.S. and Canada.

The Young and the Restless is the top-rated daytime drama (M-F) in France.

These are extra sources of revenue. Along with (hopefully) growing revenues from cable and internet streaming and clever ways of monetizing DVR views, this international base buttresses a show against declines in the homeland.

I also think that the historical consistency and lush beauty of the show helps in international distribution. Having lived overseas, one of the things that international viewers love about American serials is their conspicuous consumption. Big cars, big houses, (at one time) big shoulders. Y&R is one of the few soaps that still embraces this quintessential component of the American serial.

Personally, I love verite too. I think there is room for that. But the traditional base of the international appeal of US shows is "lifestyles of the rich and famous". Y&R offers that.

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