Surprise! Soap Opera Ratings Bubble Up
This story first appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When ABC canceled One Life to Live and All My Children a year ago, the network cited declining ratings, higher production costs and changing viewer tastes as the reasons. But this season, all four surviving daytime broadcast soaps -- ABC's General Hospital, CBS' The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful and NBC's Days of Our Lives -- have seen a surprise uptick in ratings and are outpacing the talk shows that replaced Life and Children.
"What's happened is the core audience realized these treasures might go away," says Bill Carroll, vp and director of programming at Katz Television Group. "They decided they'd better watch, or the shows are not going to be there."
Consolidating that audience was a goal of recent casting moves, according to Frank Valentini, executive producer of General Hospital (and formerly of One Life to Live). "We brought three actors from One Life to Live to General Hospital, so I'm sure we brought some fans over," he says.
Valentini cites other recent improvements -- storylines don't drag out as long, portrayals of women are more contemporary, and there are fewer flashbacks and more intrigue, romance and humor. The result: GH, which moved up an hour to 2 p.m. to make room for the new talk show Katie, is seeing ratings gains.
Social media and increasing use of DVRs also are helping drive viewers. "There's a water-cooler sort of effect in social media," says Valentini. For instance, a mid-November episode of Days was seen live by about 1.8 million people. Another 409,000 time-shifted to later that day, and an additional 178,000 watched within seven days. (That means about 25 percent of overall viewers watched a recording.)
Costs also have been trimmed from what a source says was the $170,000 it took to produce a network episode in 2011 (about $42 million a year).
At the same time, ABC's One Life to Live replacement The Chew is averaging 2.4 million total viewers. That's competitive with GH, but in the key demo of women 25-to-54 (which is what advertisers care about most), Chew generates only a 0.9 rating, about one-third less than GH delivers. Katie also is failing to attract as many women 25-to-54 as GH. (ABC's other soap replacement, the lifestyle self-help show The Revolution, already has been canceled.)
Given the resurgence, could this mean new dramas soon will be coming to daytime? Says Carroll, "At some point in the future, the trend will once again be soap operas."