Fasten Your Seatbelts

I would like nothing better than to start the new year by talking about one of the five soaps I watch on a regular basis: As the World Turns, Guiding Light, General Hospital, All My Children and One Life to Live. As a regular consumer of Daytime Confidential, you would like to talk about Spixie, Skate, CarJack, Craig, Shayne & Dinah, Bizzie, Rylee, David Vickers or Todd, Tea, and Marty. We are primed for more analysis and debate about the state of soaps, the ratings race, backstage gossip and industry machinations that directly affect our soaps.

However, yesterday came a series of alarming reports that every serious soap fan should take particular notice. This news is not sexy, glamorous, or particularly juicy. It seems far removed from the battle over Little Johnny, Claudia’s frantic (if increasingly laughably staged) search for the incriminating DVD’s , or the impending return of one Phillip Granville Spaulding. In fact, this is the type of news that most soap fans will gloss over and turn up their noses without a second thought, but we would be wise to resist that temptation. Yesterday, the automobile industry reported its worst sales in decades. While not surprising given the current state of the economy, this is one of the most problematic developments for daytime dramas that we’ve seen in a long time.

Let’s get straight to it. According to Monday’s New York Times:

Vehicle sales in the United States tumbled more than 35 percent in December, dragging the Detroit automakers’ full-year totals down to their lowest levels in nearly half a century.

"So what does this have to do with my soaps?," you rightly ask. The answer is at once complicated, yet very easy to grasp. Chrysler was down 53% in sales. Toyota lost 37%. Honda bled out 35%. Ford reported 32% sales losses, while Nissan and GM fell 31% in sales. The other car makers lost between 8%-36% in sales. The cumulative effect is that as the auto industry sales continue to plummet, so do network and independent television affiliates lose advertising. According to Automotive News and other industry sources like Media Buyer Planner, the automakers are not the only the advertisers cutting back:

Carmakers aren’t the only ones trimming ad spending. Their regional-dealer ad groups, which generate a chunk of their budgets from every new-vehicle sale, are also cutting back due in part to smaller volumes, noted veteran auto marketer and agency exec Ian Beavis, now executive vice president and executive client director of Aegis Group’s Carat. Beavis said the biggest drop in industry ad spending will be from individual auto dealers because "their margins are getting squeezed" and they are cutting expenses any way they can just to survive.

Those individual auto dealers account for a hefty portion of the revenues generated by your local TV station. When revenues fall, your local station starts cutting back on everything from news operations to various forms of programming for which it must pay all or at least some part of its various shows’ licensing fees. Now I am sure there are people with far more knowledge about these things than I who will surely correct me (and they are welcome to do so if I am in error), but the following is not a forensic analysis of how soap operas are funded or generate revenues. It is, however, a close enough overview for our general purposes in order to see how these issues affect daytime dramas:

A soap opera’s production costs are generally funded by either the network that owns them (ABC) or the production company that produces them (Proctor & Gamble, Bell Dramatic Serial Company, or Corday Productions, Inc). In the latter case, NBC pays Corday Productions a licensing fee for broadcast rights and sells advertising time during the broadcast from which it recoups its licensing costs; CBS has a similar arrangement with Bell Dramatic Serial. It should be noted here that Sony Pictures Television is the distributor for The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives, including domestic and international handling, while The Bold & The Beautiful is distributed by Bell-Phillip Television. The distribution arms essentially negotiate international and other broadcast rights and split the profits with the production companies. On the other hand, CBS pays P&G a licensing fee in exchange for favorable or "preferred" advertising rates for the bulk of a given shows’ episodes.

In good economic times, more or less everybody comes out a winner and only struggling soaps feel the pain of budget cuts. In bad economic times, every show takes hits of varying degrees. This is why the Bell soaps seemingly are generally in the strongest financial position in terms of production since revenues are generated from a variety sources, especially international markets; the ABC soaps get hit hard across the board since the network bears the full cost of production; and the P&G soaps generally get slammed because P&G is a massive conglomerate whose fortunes are tied to directly to the economy itself. In other words, when people don’t buy Pampers, Oakdale’s sets shrink about a foot and a half in all directions. (continued)

19 Responses

  1. Profile photo of Meg

    Nice piece, I completely agree with you. As someone who grew up in Michigan and has an entire family connected in some way or form to the auto industry as well as having worked in daytime television I know all to well that what happens to the auto industry will have an affect on our soaps and all entertainment. It’s nice to see people in the industry not gloss over what’s happening in Detroit right now. After just coming back from michigan to my home now in new york, I know it’s bad over there. If the P&G soaps are in any state as what it was when I was let got over a month ago, like you said, it will be a bumpy ride. Unfortunately, I don’t think that at the end of 2009 we’ll have the same eight soaps we have at the beginning. And if we do, many might be going to the same formula that GL exhibits. Just not the same. But if it’s a good story, I’ll still watch. It’s the story and the characters that make a show, not the sets and wardrobe…Although they do help.

    Good Job. Love your thoughts. BTW I watch the exact same 5 soaps you do. And your the first person I know that does. The combination of the P&G and the ABC soaps is a rare combination. Pretty Cool

  2. Profile photo of

    I only ‘used’ to watch GH, but stopped in November. Soaps are a business, it’s about ‘customer satisfaction’. With the economy so bad, you have more people at home as they’re unemployed. Their spending powers may not be what they once were, but now they have a captive audience IF they listened to the fans. We ARE THEIR AUDIENCE. When we vote in polls, call comments lines and write in, that is our voice. When you have people like Brian Frons making assinine statements that fans can be ‘trained’, those fans (who are much more sophisticated and educated than my grandmothers generation who started watching GH) retaliate by turning off their television sets. When they take a character like Jason Morgan, their undisputed ‘star’, wait 15 years to give him a child, choose one of the most beloved veteran actresses to mother that child, then show this 40 year old first time father choose the MOB over that child, they will reap what they sew. Soaps are still watched predominately by women, women are mothers. When you have Jason and the mother of his child win year end polls WITH NO STORY for two years straight, continue to get the support they do, as well as many critics weighing in that the breakup was a huge mistake, they cannot continue to be surprised when they’re beaten week after week by a soap that is destined for cancellation (DOOL) which is now a better show. Until they lose this stupid mob focus, and continue to show their two ‘stars’ who, for years, have been shoved down our throats as the ‘good mobsters’ with women who are responsible for the coma of a child, and the other with a woman they spent a solid two weeks trying to prove to us that she’s ‘changed’, the ratings will continue to plummet. Love in the afternoon is exactly what this horrible state of the world is in need of currently to escape an hour a day. This crap that they’re shoving down our face is failing miserably and the ratings prove it. I don’t give them another year if they don’t wake up soon. Characters MUST evolve. Watching the same mistakes made by the same characters day after day, year after year, is not entertainment. Viewers are responding the only way they know how, they are tuning out.

  3. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    Great piece J Bernard (as usual), but boy am I depressed. It seems soaps take one hit after another… I guess there’s nothing a fan can do except enjoy (or endure) the shows that are currently on air and hope for the best.

    I’m surprised anyone would call you a “naive opitimist.” I think you’ve always had a realistic view and I’ve appreciated your practical, yet non-doomsday approach to soaps.

    Thanks for another thoughtful and thought-provoking essay! :)

  4. Profile photo of miajere

    Great read! I had to read twice.

    Although I find the 18-49 demo to be extremely narrow considering how many demographics these soaps don’t speak to on a more consistent basis. Gays and Lesbians, Latinos, and African Americans are not necessarily included in that day to day “sell”, and are quite usually left out or worst left to chance. If I hadn’t been watching for so long, I’m not quite sure much of what’s on would appeal to me.

    I wonder if opening to these demographics would help in the gaining of advertisers. If something like “Nuke” is hot subculturally, would advertisers spend more money? The assumption seems to be “some” don’t have the money to spend or “not those people”, but now that everyone is broke, do advertisers really care who’s buying? I’m not talking about changing the fabrication of a show or sloppy pandering, just talking to whoever’s watching.

    I understand these things are easier said than done.

  5. Profile photo of SoapSnob

    Great post, J. Bernard! As usual, you have provided a well-written and thought-provoking piece. And, in reference to advertising, the thought that it provokes for me is this…

    While watching my daytime drama line-up, which includes Y&R, OLTL and B&B and, sometimes, AMC, ATWT and GL, I see many, Many, MANY promos for the CBS and ABC primetime hits CSI, The Mentalist, NCIS, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy, et. al. But I NEVER see any promos for the daytime dramas during any these primetime shows. That is ridiculous. Are the networks aware of the corporate synergy they could engender if they realized that the promotion given to their primetime line-up would be just as beneficial for their daytime line-up?

  6. Profile photo of carly2098

    I love my tv shows, I really do, prime shows Grey’s Anatomy and my law and orders all 3 of them and then practice practice, and brothers and sisters. But I do love my soaps too. I like All my childern and one life to life, but my heart and soul belong to Gh i love where that is going, Still upsent about liason breaking up and not on there love and they will be back toggether. I love daytime tv, and I also watch primetime. I do see proms for both of all my shows when I’m either watch the soaps or primetime, just wish Gh would wake and do what is right about liason.

    Go liason

  7. Profile photo of OldGHFan

    English 101: know your audience. GH doesn’t seem to know that women are their primary audience. Women generally like romance, adventure, family, friendships and LOVE in the afternoon – not sex, violence and mob in the afternoon. Frons, Phelps and Guza seem to think their primary audience is 12 year old boys.

    English 101: know your audience!

  8. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    Just to disagree with you slightly OldGHFan, I think women also like sex on their soaps – how many times have we heard female soap fans requesting for their fave male actors to take their shirts off?? LOL

    I’m a female and I want all that stuff, in good proportion. But mostly I’d love to see stories that are driven by female characters. I don’t want them to basically be props for the men and *their* stories. JMO

  9. Profile photo of Jamey Giddens
    Jamey Giddens

    I hear Frons is bringing a family of little people mobsters to town. Carly will sleep with the don of the family Little Big Man during Sweeps, before an explosion blows his wife out of a window at GH. Luckily Sam McCall just happens to be outside, having been tied to a pole by a swarthy man of Morrocan (or Israeli, Pakistani, Swedish?) descent and she manages to catch the little lass!

  10. Profile photo of J Bernard Jones
    J Bernard Jones

    Jamey, will Linda Hunt or Rhea Perlman play the new boss lady?

    Is Peter Dinklage or Verne Troyer the new boss man?

    Shall Bad Santa’s Tony Cox play the mini-muscle against Max & Milo?

    Will their fearsome Lollipop Guild rival the Corrinthos and Zacchara clans?

  11. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    Daisy, I got a whole new bag of tricks for 2009! Linda Hunt is just the first! LOL

    You’re just full of surprises J Bernard! Well if this is just a taste of what’s to come then I say Bring It On!! :D

  12. Profile photo of OldGHFan

    Oh, DaisyClover, I get that people want to see their favorite male soap stars without their shirts. LOL. I was a huge Robert & Holly fan back in the day and they were hitting the sheets (and saunas) every other day. I loved that. The difference between back then and now is the LOVE. I don’t want to see ONS, hatesex, revengesex, or limosex. I want to see LOVE. That’s the difference.

  13. Profile photo of Doobiekat

    I think GL will survive this mess,because Ellen Wheeler saw it coming before most in the industry and she at least has tried to change the way soaps operate for the future…I know it’s been a bumpy transformation for GL fans,but it really is getting better daily -writing,production,and acing have really gotten better in December. I think CBS will keep the longest running show in broadcast history just for bragging rights alone….CBS is not stupid enough to let ABC or NBC celebrate the cancelation of GL …and beleive me I think alot of haters would just love that based on some comments about GL on this board alone – usally from GH fans I’ve noticed over the years. GL helped create & move soaps along from the begining and they are not going to let it go as easily as some wish.

  14. Profile photo of soapoperafan

    Excellent article J Bernard and unfortunately one I have to agree with. You can have the best cast in the world (Santa Barbara, Another World, Search for Tomorrow) but if TBTP aren’t willing to spend the money to produce the shows the way they should be, then all is lost. I’ve noticed a certain trend of “product placement” that is annoying at best and on the Y n R at least, they used to have an announcer to annouce the commercials. Now we hear the likes of talented people like Jess Walton, Peter Bergman and Jeanne Cooper doing it. Yes, those are their voices that you hear. As for Mob Story(GH), while I’m a fan of the actor, Maurice Bernard, I’m also more captivated when there is good old fashioned romance in the air. That’s why I loved Robin n Patrick’s wedding. We need more of that. As a long time DAYS and Y n R fan, I’m upset over the news of the firings of Drake Hogestyn, Deirdre Hall and Don Diamont. Noone has been more loyal to these shows and this is the thanks they get. Unfortunately, I fear it is only the beginning.

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