Monday, April 6, 2009

Soapnet and SyFy and Guiding Light

In this entry, I want to briefly acknowledge the reality that cable networks, including Soapnet are fickle things. They have to constantly evolve to survive. With that being the case, there is little reason to believe that Soapnet is going to be a viable home for the future of daytime--certainly not Guiding Light. Personally, I think P&G/Telenext has the exciting -- and risky -- opportunity to create its own new exclusive-content online distribution channels. These channels will connect them directly with their intended ad recipients. If P&G shows leadership here, they may in fact have figured out a way to be the leaders for the third major soap evolution (TV to online), just as they blazed the trail from radio to TV in the 1950s.

Here's how I think:

a. Soapnet continues to evolve, and it has to to stay alive. As an advertiser- and subscriber-supported network, they have to run the stuff that gets the coveted eyeballs (18-49 women) and makes money.

b. All cable networks seem to do this. The template for cable network evolution is all over the board...Nick at Nite, TVLand, MTV, GSN, Bravo, A&E, TruTV. Every one of these networks started with one identity and programming concept, but has now become somthing very different. Some have had wholesale identity shifts (TruTv which started as CourtTV), others have tweaked their program mix away from what was their core brand (MTV now barely plays music; GSN has minimized the classic game shows; AMC has banging original shows and newer movies...not the black and white commercial free classics they started with).

So it is with Soapnet. Another World is gone. Ryan's Hope is stuck in a perpetual loop at 4 am. Weekend marathons of most soaps are gone. Original soap-related programming (Soap Talk, Soapcenter, Soapography, One Day With, Night Shift) is gone.

Many feel cheated by the brand evolution, but it is very clear to me that it is a survival strategy.

Why should we hate these companies for doing what they need to to make money?

SyFy is one of the most glaring recent examples. Their recent evolution from the network for Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who into the network for ... something really different ... simply shows that being the niche sci-fi channel couldn't work for them anymore.

Let me say, though, that while I'm kind of blase about these brand switches, they INFURIATE a lot of my fellow viewers. With regard to Soapnet, specifically, viewers feel betrayed. "We called our cable provider to put Soapnet on so we could watch Another World, and then they took it away!" or "Brian Frons hates soaps, so he minimizes their presence on his network".

Honestly I do not believe it is anything that malevolent--or specific to soaps.. I just think that these cable networks are so fragile and marginal that they have to quickly evolve or die. Why would we expect less of a soap network? It is clear that this is a survival strategy that has affected most of the viable networks out there. Anyone remember "Outdoor Living Network?" Oh yeah...they're called VS now. Where is the Nashville Network? Oh yeah...that's Spike.

3. Soapnet, though, may be kind of screwed. Why? Because despite their attempts to revise their brand, their big numbers still come from same day primetime reruns of daytime of soaps. What to?? Your big numbers come from the "granny shows". You're screwed!

That suggests to me that Soapnet may not fully evolve until it dumps the daytime shows and rebrands (Reality-and-Celebrity-net).

4. What about soaps, then?

The rebranding of Soapnet actually may portend hope for soaps -- but not on TV. Soapnet itself seems to be moving into the online distribution world...and its inhospitable (to soaps) broadcast platform may help more quickly move soaps onto the internets. It is there -- if anywhere -- that I think survival can be found. (Once we figure out how to properly monetize and protect these streams)

For example the network just recently acquired online streaming rights for Days of our Lives...which is interesting, because their website currently doesn't stream shows...and DOOL has been uniquely available via I-tunes.

Maybe the online portal -- where infrastructure costs are much lower -- will be the place for daytime soaps and classic soaps. That fits in well with the rapid emergence of an on-demand on-line television culture (Hulu, Fancast,, etc). Indeed, perhaps Soapnet should strive to become the exclusive online distributor of soaps (all other services have to license content through them...and use their advertisers).

5. What does this have to do with Guiding Light?

Well, Brian Cahill of TeleNext is talking about finding new homes for his show.

I would not urge him to talk to Soapnet. Not only does that network not have real-estate for the P&G shows, but history shows they are not loyal to original programming (few last more than a season). And the network clearly wants to get One Tree Hill/Gilmore Girl viewers and Lifetime Movie women...who seem to be a little different (younger?) than soap viewers.

Indeed, I think P&G should just bite the bullet and create its own online distribution channel. They have already been going great guns to create online niches that deliver content to the viewers they seek to advertise too.

"If you build it, they will come". P&G should just continue to control GL, and use it as the experimental vehicle to build a new "soaps" channel. GL continues in that way to be the leader (just as it moved from radio over 50 years ago, now it can be the first mover to the internet). Initially, this GL might be a loss leader...but eventually it could build an intriguing new online brand that might represent the future of soaps.

6. Is this pie in the sky?

On April 1, I would have said there was no hope for GL to continue to exist. Now, I'm starting to get the sense that P&G/Telenext might be serious about trying to do something to at least explore whether the brand can be revitalized and made more relevant off of CBS.

If so, I want to remind P&G: A big part of your GL problem was that you could not fully control the creative product (thanks to corporate overseers) or the distribution (thanks to recalcitrant affiliates that either refused to air the show, or put it on at goofy times). I urge P&G to retain control of the content during this next evolution, and to control the channel. It is from that control (let's call it "protection") that I could imagine that a 'safe harbor' for the evolution of daytime might actually emerge.

No comments: