Sara Evans Brought to You by ABC Soaps

Network to Sponsor Concert Tour After Finding That Quarter of Country-Music Fans Watch Daytime TV

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NEW YORK ( -- If Walt Disney plays its cards right, it will be turning fans of country music into aficionados of the venerable soap opera.

Using syndicated research, executives behind ABC's daytime programming and its sibling cable channel SoapNet have determined that 25% of country-music fans are also fans of soaps. With that in mind, ABC will become the presenting sponsor of country warbler Sara Evans' national summer tour -- the first time the network has ever sponsored a national concert tour -- and will use the concerts to promote afternoon standbys "One Life to Live," "All My Children" and "General Hospital" while giving Ms. Evans on-air exposure on ABC and SoapNet.

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The idea, said Adam Rockmore, senior VP-marketing, ABC Daytime and SoapNet, is to mine Ms. Evans' fan base for new viewers. "Soaps have been around for 30 or 40 years, and every year you lose a generation and you hope to gain a new one," he said. Because music can serve as an "emotional lever," he added, ABC may be able to latch on to new soap fans by using a favorite genre of music as a hook.

As part of the pact, ABC soap stars will visit when Ms. Evans plays concerts in Mableton, Ga., and Fort Worth, Texas, in August. She has also taped a series of promos with actors and actresses from "General Hospital" and "One Life to Live." The skits depict the soap actors dropping in on the country singer hanging out in her dressing room and promote the alliance with her tour.

Facing dire straits
The soap opera has been on TV in one form or another since "Guiding Light" made its debut in 1952. Originally conceived as radio dramas that would help sell soap made by the companies sponsoring the series, soaps now face dire straits as TV audiences -- and the ad dollars that follow them -- fragment and spread among dozens of viewing options, including cable news. CBS has already announced that "Guiding Light," produced by Procter & Gamble, will air its last episode in September.

That means come the fall, CBS will have three soaps and NBC just one in the daytime lineup. ABC, meanwhile, has had more success with its three soaps, in part because it can monetize them with additional showings on SoapNet.

CBS's "Guiding Light" had about 2.1 million viewers through July 5,, down from about 2.5 million a year earlier, according to Nielsen. "The Young and the Restless," the only soap to garner more than 5 million viewers regularly, secured about 5.2 million, down from about 5.3 million.

ABC's "General Hospital" had about 2.6 million, down from about 2.9 million a year earlier. "One Life to Live" had about 2.5 million, down from about 2.6 million. And "All My Children" held relatively steady at about 2.58 million, compared with about 2.59 million.

Only NBC's "Days of Our Lives" boasted a modest increase in viewers year over year, moving to about 2.84 million viewers from about 2.81 million.

Novel idea
The concert-sponsorship idea is certainly novel. Marketer interested in supporting concert tours usually hail from sectors such as financial services and automotive, said William Chipps, senior editor at IEG Sponsorship Report, part of WPP's IEG, which tracks and analyzes corporate sponsorships. "Industries that have traditionally been the go-to sources for sponsorship dollars" have "dried up" in the current economy, he said, making it "more important than ever for sponsorship sellers to prospect nontraditional sectors for some sponsorship dollars."

ABC has already seen some success with other recent musical ventures. ABC Daytime has been a sponsor of Stagecoach, an April country-music festival in California, as well as the CMA Music Festival in Nashville in June. The network found that local-market ratings in Nashville for its three soap operas experienced an increase week after week. Total viewership in the three weeks following the festival increased for both "All My Children" and "One Life to Live, while "General Hospital" was flat.

The sponsorship method may be unique, but Mr. Rockmore said soaps face the same challenges every other genre of programming does at a time when consumers have dozens of entertainment options. "It's a sieve, and you have to keep putting more people in the sieve" as audiences fragment. Time was, TV networks relied most heavily on promos on their own air, but as this country-music connection suggests, it may be worth speaking to potential viewers in a familiar dialect -- in this case, one with a little twang to it.

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