ABC Campaign Gives Washed-Up Soaps New Image

Glams Up Daytime Dramas in Effort to Replenish Longtime Audience

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NEW YORK ( -- O.J. Simpson killed the soap opera.

The soaps' audience has slipped since the daytime telecasts of his infamous trial in the mid-1990s, said Shari Cohen, president and co-executive director of national broadcast at WPP Group's MindShare. "They sort of never rebounded from that ... and obviously the audience base has evolved," she said. "They've got a lot going on in their lives and a lot of opportunity to find content in a lot of places."
'Watch ... or get whacked': Unlikely soap supporters in the promotion include actress Elizabeth Berkley, Spice Girl Mel B and Vincent Pastore of 'The Sopranos.'
'Watch ... or get whacked': Unlikely soap supporters in the promotion include actress Elizabeth Berkley, Spice Girl Mel B and Vincent Pastore of 'The Sopranos.' Credit: Ron Tom

Indeed. "All My Children," "One Life To Live" and "General Hospital" have run on ABC since 1970, 1968 and 1963, respectively. That's why the Walt Disney network is sexing up the soaps with a promotion geared to get Millennials to watch.

The effort will portray the shows as having more of the glitz, dalliances and delightful tension viewers expect in prime-time dramas. In the spots, which will appear on cable, in celebrity-oriented magazines and websites, and, of course, on ABC and SoapNet, actress Elizabeth Berkley spotlights the strong women of "One Life to Live," fashion designer Randolph Duke points to the style of "All My Children" and country- music singer Billy Currington calls attention to the romance on "General Hospital." Other well-known faces that are part of the effort include Spice Girl Mel B and "Sopranos" actor Vincent Pastore. These people traditionally have very little to do with soap operas, but that's part of the plan: surprising would-be viewers and getting them to tune in.

"People really just assumed that people knew what a soap was and why they should watch, and the habit of watching a soap would be passed down from mother to daughter," said Brian Frons, president-daytime, Disney-ABC Television Group. "We know from our research that that's just not true any more."

ABC's flashy youth appeal marks the latest effort by the big broadcast networks to light a fire under the venerable soap opera (CBS recently started a promotional effort as well). Despite dwindling audiences, advertisers still like these ol' reliables, because they attract die-hards -- often women in charge of household budgets -- who come back again and again to catch up on the latest plot twists, romances and scandals.

ABC's gambit could have a payoff. Walgreen Co. intends to "shift some of our assets" to the Disney network, said Christine Kubisztal, the company's manager-media strategy and services, because of its effort to capture the attention of younger consumers. Soap fans are valuable, she said, but executives "know we need to try to get in front of a younger viewer."

Adam Rockmore, senior VP-marketing, ABC Daytime and Disney-operated SoapNet, agrees.

'Get them early'
"We want to get them early, because then you can get them for the rest of their lives."

More than 3.7 million people watched "All My Children" on a live or same-day basis through July 6 of 2003, according to Nielsen. Through July 6 of this year, about 2.6 million people watched.

Ad sales are also off. In 2003, advertisers spent about $967.9 million on the eight big network soaps. In 2007, they spent about $870.6 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

While some of the programs, such as "The Young and the Restless" have remained relatively stable, NBC's "Days of Our Lives" -- the only soap the network runs -- has seen ad dollars tumble to about $97.5 million in 2007 from nearly $130 million in 2003.
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