Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The soap magazines hung on better than the soaps!

Today, I was fiddling around with my usual ratings charts. What started it was the claim by Brenda Dickson (to's Nelson Branco) that when she came and left to Y&R, that coincided with Y&R hitting and leaving #1 status. That seems palpably false, since she last left Y&R in 1987 and Y&R didn't hit #1 (where it has stayed) till the 1998-1999 season. This figure illustrates the point.

You can't help but look at those lines after 1990, though, and just click your tongue at the unrelenting bleeding.

So then I got to wondering, "how badly did this all this soap decline hurt the magazines"? The figures and tables below provide some data about this, and they are somewhat surprising. During the 2000s, the magazines have pretty much "held on". Indeed, Soaps in Depth emerged in this decade, and quickly overtook Soap Opera Digest (both the ABC and CBS versions separately overtook SOD in newsstand sales). Some caveats:

A. Data come from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and only are available free/to the public from 1998 forward (with 1997 data embedded)
B. Public data are limited to the top 100. Soap magazines dropped out of the top 100 in total circulation after 2002, and only Soap Opera Digest appeared in the top 100. So, I don't know about later data.
C. Looking at "single copy sales" (newsstand), the story is less bleak--it actually seems to show relative stability. 3-4 soap magazines appear in the top 100 in every year from 1997-present. Soap Opera Weekly dropped out of the top 100 in 2008 though, so I estimated its average newsstand circulation (at 100,000) for 2008. That may be an over-estimate. (The bleeding circulation for SOW may explain some of the Carolyn Hinsey sacking? Even though it was probably not her fault).

The figures are actually encouraging to me, because it suggests a kind of levelling off of circulation (relative to the shows themselves). From 1997-2000, the single-copy sales include Soap Opera Digest, Soap Opera Weekly, and Soap Opera Update. (In 1997-98, Soap Opera Magazine is also included). After 2000, Soap Opera Update disappears, but is replaced by Soaps in Depth (CBS and ABC) in the newsstand top-100. Interestingly, from 2005 on, Soaps in Depth (both versions) actually EXCEED Soap Opera Digest in newsstand sales.

Since the soap magazines held on better than the soaps themselves, it does make one wonder if viewers who "lapsed" in watching the shows continued to "keep up" by reading the magazines. And if this is the case, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Does the availability of spoilers, recaps and pictures actually hurt the original product?

If anyone is interested, I have the magazine-specific data, and can share it at a later date.

Total circulation of Soap Opera Digest during the years in which it appeared in the Audit Bureau Top 100 Total Circulation

Newsstand circulation of Soap Opera Digest from 1997-2008

Total newsstand circulation of all soap magazines listed in the Audit Bureau top-100, 1997-2008.
(Note, 2008 figure for Soap Opera Weekly is an estimate)


Moni said...

MarkH How are you?

I was just making some charts of my own on the demographics of soap watchers and came to the same conclusion you did in your previous article; more than half of the current viewers are over 50.

No wonder CBS ad revenues were cut this year. I was planning to ask you if it was safe to assume the over 50 group is basically women, and I see you made the same assumption.

The missing piece in all this seems to be that most of those women according to Conde Nast, are lower income African Americans...

Aside from all the subgroup analysis, I was going to ask you about updating your rating the Head Writers piece. We've gotten three additional months of ratings, and MAB has as much tenure as her predecessor at this point.

I think it is appropriate to show the evolution of this trend as well. Just wondering what you thought about it.

Be of Good Cheer!

Jonathan said...

As Always Great INFO!!