Soap On A Rope



DON'T CRY FOR ME, ELLEN WHEELER

Our good pal Nelson Branco has reported recently according to various sources that GL is quite likely to have its life support ended some time in 2009. The soon-to-be 72 year old soap could see its last Peapack, New Jersey winter. Other observers, like our own brilliant Jamey Giddens, have stated point blank that GL is on its last legs and completely unsustainable after hitting a 1.4 rating and a loss of 21% of the 18-49 demographic advertisers crave following the switch to its current "The Hills"-like production model. Contrary to conventional wisdom on this subject, I am not quite as convinced.

Take that 1.4 rating for example. No soap could survive with such low viewership if this were 1984. After all, when The Edge of Night was cancelled during that year, it had a 3.5 rating. Compare that to #1 rated Y&R, which had a rating of 3.7 the week of November 17-21 of this year. By the time EON's final episode aired, the crime drama/mystery soap garnered a 2.6 rating, which is roughly equal to what Days of Our Lives and One Life to Live received 11/17-21/08 and more than All My Children for the same period this year.

The point here is that times have changed dramatically. I could write a long, long  (yes, even longer than this) treatise on what's different between then and now but we already know the dozens of changes that have rocked the daytime industry in particular and broadcast television in general. Perhaps the biggest and most significant one of all is that the networks and daytime executives have lowered their ratings expectations out of necessity since the now-hallowed '80's.  While that may be bad news overall in the long run, it is not as bad as one might think for the near future. How so?

Let's look at GL's recent 1.4 rating (which is the percentage of households with televisions) another way. For the 2007-08 season, there are an estimated 112,800,000 television households in the US, so 1% of that number equals 1,128,000 households. This means the episodes of GL that aired in its original daytime time slots for the week of 11/10-14/08 when the show hit that all-time low 1.4 rating, 1,950,000 people watched GL. You want to know some of the shows that had comparable ratings to GL for roughly the same period? Everybody Hates Chris (1.7), Stylista (1.2), Privileged (1.4) and Supernatural (1.8).

Before anyone says "But they are all on The CW!," keep in mind those series are broadcast in prime time when there are presumably more people available to view them compared to daytime. The upshot is that executives are comparing ratings data across a wide spectrum of analysis that are presented to advertisers. Therefore the idea that a 1.4 rating in and of itself is a show killer might not be as deadly as we might think on first glance.

But what about that horrible 21% drop in the 18-49 demographic, accodring to Advertising Age? Surely that spells the end, right? Not so fast.

By now anyone not in a coma or with retrograde amnesia knows that all of the networks crave the 18-49 female demographic more than the Nazis craved a certain artifact in Raiders of the Lost Ark. What always gets lost in the shuffle is that while CBS loves that demo as much as anyone, the entire Eye network has always skewed older than NBC or ABC. This is why while ABC and NBC traditionally flaunts its 18-49 demographic successes, CBS traditionally emphasizes households. How does this shake down in Guiding Light's favor? Simple: GL's most important demo numbers may not be 18-49 at all, but rather 25-54 where the network usually makes its bread and butter. Accordingly, as long as GL's 25-54 numbers hold steady CBS might not be quite as willing to pull the pug on its geriatric patient as some folks might think.

Last, but certainly not least, here is the answer to the question "When is a 1.4 rating not a 1.4 rating?" Answer: When you add 1.4 +  9%. In other words, when one factors in the additional 175,000 viewers that watched GL on a time shifted basis, its actual viewership rises to 2,125,500. In the current viewership and economic climate, that's not good but it is far from the equivalent of GL's armageddon we've been leading ourselves to believe. Not only can we apply time shifted DVR numbers to all of the daytime shows per Bibel's analysis above to get a more accurate picture of what viewership is like, we also see its effects across the entire television landscape including some of our favorites like Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives and Gossip Girl.

Love of Life, The Edge of Night, Texas, Capitol, Port Charles, The City, and Another World did not have the benefit of time shifted viewing (DVR, web streaming, or iTunes) to add to their viewership numbers along with time shifted alternative viewing patterns. Therefore when we compare shows that were cancelled at higher ratings of yesteryear to the same day viewing declines of today, the time shifted numbers paint a completely different story.

The biggest threat to Guiding Light and every other soap right now is not limited to eroding ratings, which is a broadcast television problem affecting every daypart. Network executives and soap producers are well aware of this issue and are factoring into their decisions about how to save their shows. The biggest and most immediate threat to Soap Opera is the aspect least remarked upon by fans but which everyone else who is even remotely connected to the genre fears is the biggest threat of all: the crashing advertising market, mainly because auto dealers are pulling back on their marketing. If the affiliates aren't making money, they may switch to cheaper broadcast alternatives like cooking shows, judge shows, or yet another hour of your local news airing at 2PM in the afternoon.

Praise Hogan Sheffer, flog Corday, or damn Dena Higley, but pray for the robust survival of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. (continued)


Comments

DaytimeFan0001's picture
Member since:
23 April 2008
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10 hours 3 min

I think this is such b.s. so much negitivity. i just don't know how someone can even predict this unless your an executive.

J Bernard Jones's picture
Member since:
9 September 2008
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7 hours 8 min

DaytimeFan0001, um, I think you should read the entire posting. LOL

daisyclover1938's picture
Member since:
14 November 2007
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3 years 49 weeks

Great piece Bernard! You bring up a lot of interesting points. And I agree, for the short-term, our soaps are safe...but for the long-term who knows?

Let me ask you a question: You say that understanding the business of soap operas (and issues that go beyond comings/goings of TPTB, Nielson Ratings, etc...) will help us become "more effective advocates" for soaps. I agree that we (and I absolutely include myself in this) would benefit from understanding the overall picture when considering the state of the soap industry, but do you think we really can ever become "effective advocates"? Meaning, obviously we're a vocal, passionate and highly opinionated bunch but how can we be "effective"? I'm of the belief that whatever happens to our soaps (short-term or long-term, good or bad), it's for the most part out of our hands.

Sorry, that was long-winded. I guess my basic question is how and in what way do you see educated fans as "effective advocates"? Do you think our voice really matters and if so, in what way can we help the genre that we love?

And also, this is a totally random question, so feel free to ignore it if you like: When people talk about DVR numbers, are these only Nielson Family DVR numbers? I've discussed this with people and we can't seem to agree. Some think they're DVR numbers for everyone who owns a DVR, but I think that's unlikely... Just curious!

zyona's picture
Member since:
13 August 2008
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18 weeks 6 days

I think this is such b.s. so much negitivity. i just don't know how someone can even predict this unless your an executive.
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Believe me it doesn't take a genius to predict.

______________________
Mo Ambessa Z Emenete Negede Yehuda
Lack of money is the root of all evil.

Member since:
4 April 2008
Last activity:
14 weeks 1 day

Good post. I admit when I first saw it I was thinking the same thing "yet another 'soaps are dead'" tirade? I agree J that some are going a little overboard with the negativity and schadenfreude about it all. But I read on and was really impressed with your views.

Mr. Brightside's picture
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1 October 2008
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4 years 3 weeks

Hindi is a language, yo.

J Bernard Jones's picture
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9 September 2008
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7 hours 8 min

Daisy,

Your thoughtful question requires an equally thoughtful answer.

You are absolutely correct that ultimately, the fate of the 8 daytime soaps on the networks is completely out of our hands. Days or GL could be axed tomorrow and there wouldn't be anything we could do about it.

On the other hand, I define "effective" advocacy starting with a deeper appreciation for the challenges faced by networks and producers in increasingly tight economic and ratings challenged times. Often so much of our criticism (including mine) is rather vague in wanting "better stories" and "characters we can root for" and so forth. Such criticisms may seem self-evident to us as fans, but I honestly don't think that the majority of soap writers and producers are deliberately creating stories or characters to piss us off.

To that end, we should "vote" with our remotes and DVR's for that which we think is actually good. In a recent podcast, Jamey (joined in unison by Mike and Luke) hit the nail square on the head when he pointed out that producers tend to copy each other and asked people to check out whats currently going on at Y&R. if the ratings can nudge up for that show, then other soaps are sure to follow.

What was different about the tenor of Jamey's appeal was that it was directly aimed at fans of good Soap Opera watching a show that currently defines "excellence" in the form in the hopes that other shows will "get it right."

Most of the time, we fans (and I am not exempt) focus so much on the negative that we often overlook, ignore or dismiss the positive. I personally don't think it is going to fly to ask P&G to not do location-based work or ABC to not do CGI at all. But I think that it behooves us to ask that if they are going to do these things to do them better, to the best of their ability.

I think "effective" advocacy is not only having the ability to CONSTRUCTIVELY criticize what we see as wrong, but to encourage writers, producers, and execs to do more of what we think is right when THEY get it right.

One of the things that I love about Daytime Confidential, Luke Kerr, the bloggers here and so many fans like you is that people here may be hard on their shows, but ultimately it is out of love for the genre. There is a general fairness in the criticism of the shows that is not always found at other sites or message boards. If it were not so, DC would not have become so influential in the genre as it has in so short a period time.

The glue that holds us together, whether we agree or not, is that we generally agitate for excellence instead of wallow in complete negativity that is not hard to find elsewhere. Agitating for excellence is, in my opinion, the best way that we as soap fans can engage in effective advocacy for our shows and the genre as a whole.

J Bernard Jones's picture
Member since:
9 September 2008
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7 hours 8 min

Hindi is a language, yo.

The "u" is next to the "i" on the keyboard, yo. Simple typo. Fixed!

Cheers!

Member since:
31 October 2008
Last activity:
5 years 4 weeks

J Bernard beautiful piece. THis really is great.

I love how you speak of GL by not saying it is out or not.

In your honest view, do you think Soap Opera's need a new medium maybe internet or somthing else to survive?

I tape my shows with DVD Recorder does that help at all?

daisyclover1938's picture
Member since:
14 November 2007
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3 years 49 weeks

Thanks for the response Bernard! You're right, there are much more constructive ways to discuss and advocate for our shows than spouting generalized negative comments all the time (to that end, the only thing I can say about myself is that I've made an effort to stop using "TIIC" - a small step, but still...lol)

I'm not convinced though that "average" fans (like myself) could have much of an effect, even if we banded together en masse (I'm such a cynic). But luckily there are people like you (who happens to blog on an influential site Smile ) that can speak for so many of us. Thank you for that!!

Member since:
11 December 2007
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6 days 8 hours

I admit I haven't thought about this fully in my head but your views fell right in line with mine concerning NBC's faltering ratings right now. BTW you forgot about the shortchanged Generations.

Well thought out and informative. Though I believe soaps are still viable I understand more about how things are looked at.

Member since:
11 June 2008
Last activity:
1 year 4 weeks

I loved this piece. What a great essay and from someone who previously worked in daytime, recently I wholeheartedly agree with this piece. They know things are changing. How we watch tv is changing. I think that they are trying to figure out what they need to do about it and this crazy economy, advertizers and such aren't helping anything out. Plus as for NBC, zucker isn't doing a good job anywhere. They just got rid of 500,000 people this week. NBC has a lot of concerns right now, Days just being one of them. I guess with more people on the unemployment list these shows could really use this time with people unusually at home, to write these shows well. Wouldn't it be interesting that with the decline of the economy people started watching soaps again because they're home and it takes people away from the problems they are facing? Just a thought

KingTV's picture
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1 January 2008
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4 years 48 weeks

J Bernard. There is nothing I could possibly add to make the point more clear. Soap Operas do not have to fade out and die. They have triumphed and survived for far too long to just begin digging their graves. This post is a brilliant testament to that and thank you for taking the time and consideration to lay it out in a tough, but loving spirit. I watch 4 soaps a week (would watch all 8 if I had the time just because I love the genre so much, even GL and DOOL, although when I have tuned in lately they are barely tolerable) because for me, they are an art form. Just like I go to the theater, ballet, museums or the movies, I watch daytime drama and television in general not just to be entertained but to analyze, discuss and want them to reach their highest artistic peak as complex character studies. They used to all have this goal in mind and unfortunately, in today's very competitive world, most have turned to (ridiculous) plot-driven garbage. I would rather watch repeats of "Ryan's Hope" or "Santa Barbara" then most of what is playing on prime-time these days. I think that the new generation of fans are not being taught appreciation of art or culture beyond the latest Wii video game, so I highly doubt new fans are going to be developed even if all 8 soaps were at the top peak of their form right now. It is a very difficult, complex situation but I am hardly ready to start sitting shiva yet. I will watch soaps until every last one of them fades to black. Thank you again for your insight and honorable intentions.

Trudi's picture
Member since:
6 January 2008
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2 years 41 weeks

I loved your column. I get so exhausted listening to amateurs analyze the ratings and attribute the declines to the death of this character, or the breaking up of that couple.