Tune In for the Continuing Saga: 'Live and Let Buy'

Road to the Upfront: SoapNet

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The Player: SoapNet
The Project: "Live and Let Buy," a made-for-upfront mini-movie starring key media buyers, marketers and ABC Daytime sales execs and soap stars
Key Execs: Mike Shaw, president-sales and marketing, ABC Television Network; Brian Frons, president, Daytime division, Disney-ABC Television Group; John Caruso, senior VP-ABC Television Network Sales; Heidi Lobel, senior VP-ABC Daytime and SoapNet sales; KC Estenson, VP-digital media, Disney-ABC cable networks
The Cast: An A-list lineup of package-goods media buyers: Larry Blasius, exec VP-director of broadcast negotiations at Magna Global; Bruce Cohen, managing partner-director of national broadcast, Mediaedge:cia; Shari Cohen, co-executive director-national television, Mindshare; Bob Connolly, VP-group director, Carat; Sharon Cullen, group director, OMD; Peggy Green, vice chairman, Zenith Media; Steve Grubbs, CEO, OMG Entertainment & Sports; John Muszynski, CEO, Starcom; Scott Lee, senior VP-group director, Mediavest; Jon Stimmel, director-media buying, Unilever; Marc Wallen, senior VP-managing partner, Mediacom

The Backstory: As ABC gears up for its annual upfront advertiser gala next week, a cheeky video starring its top sales execs and many of its top media buyers has been making the rounds at media agencies in recent weeks.

Dubbed "Live and Let Buy," the clip is a mock soap opera created by SoapNet, ABC Daytime's cable network currently in nearly 70 million homes, and the latest episode in a three-year project the network has been enlisting buyers to co-star in since 2006.

This year's episode was filmed on the hospital set of ABC Daytime's "All My Children," which lent itself to a scandal-packed plot of secret affairs, illegitimate children and, of course, botched media buys. The video's media buyers are seen acting out time-honored soap cliches like post-coma amnesia (Magna Global's Mr. Blasius), philandering doctors (Mindshare's Ms. Cohen) and the hunky psychiatrist (Unilever's Mr. Stimmel), but perhaps wielding the most method-acting technique was SoapNet's own Ms. Lobel. In "Live and Let Buy," the ABC Daytime sales chief co-stars as an escaped inmate caught in a bus explosion, with the frazzled hair and burn-addled makeup to match.

In lieu of a formal upfront event this year, SoapNet turned to "Live and Let Buy" and its individual agency presentations to increase visibility in a jam-packed marketplace. So far, the gambit is paying off, Ms. Lobel said. "When you've got 70-plus executives to get to, they're probably not spending that much time with SoapNet, so this has really opened up a lot of eyes in that sort of forum," she said.

The junior buyers in particular seem to be getting the biggest kick out of the video. "They laugh when they see their boss on camera. ... It gives the people who wouldn't interact with the heads of their departments on a regular basis the opportunity to have banter about it."

Mediaedge's Mr. Cohen, who plays a cop in "Live and Let Buy," said, "It's always fun to get out and spend time with my cohorts in a less-formal environment." Mr. Cohen was also not above letting art imitate life during the shoot -- his work shirt had a small makeup-related smudge on it from filming. "If the stain doesn't come out, I'm sure Heidi will know about it," he joked.

The Ratings Game: Since SoapNet was built out of a successful ABC daytime franchise, finding ways to lure viewers during prime time remains a challenge. Last year, the network experimented with new programming such as the reality series "The Fashionista Diaries" and "General Hospital" spin-off "Night Shift," both of which remain in limbo for second-season pick-ups. Now the network is turning to clip shows and reality fare like "Relative Madness," "MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives" and "Soapography." Commercial engagement, however, is less of an issue for the network, which tends to see retention rates in prime time on par with its more successful dayparts. "We have not yet found that really changing around the format is going to change dramatically like the way you would see in early morning," Ms. Lobel said.

The Digital Play: SoapNet is hoping to make a broader play for monetizing the soap social networking space with the launch of a new ad network for SoapNet.com. The new network of 45 sites could potentially double the site's current audience, which was down 24% to 1.2 million unique visitors in March 2008, according to ComScore. Mr. Estenson, the net's VP-digital media, said unlike similar ad network partnerships between Glam Media and ABC sister cabler Lifetime, SoapNet.com's remake is more of a broader content play than a quest for scale. "This is a space magazine publishers have played in forever. What we're trying to do is bring some of that thinking to our site," he said.

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