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.