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Canceling Daytime Soap Operas Is Easy, Replacing Them Is Not

There are just four soap operas left on daytime broadcast
television, and those could be safe for another few years as the networks try
to figure out what type of programming will work best to replace them.

Soap operas might still be popular with a certain segment of
audience, but they are very expensive to produce and offer virtually no
opportunity for the networks to make any kind of ad dollars with product
integrations in which advertisers are interested. So, much like ABC when
it canceled All My Children and One Life to Live, and like CBS did in axing The
Guiding Light
and As theWorld Turns, the networks will
eventually look to replace them with more "advertiser-friendly" types
of programming.

The problem for the broadcast networks, however, is that
there really isn't much for them to turn to as replacement programming. Daytime
today, with all the cable networks, is very competitive for viewers' attention,
and there are so many cooking shows in primetime that the last thing many
viewers want to watch in daytime are more cooking shows.

This season, ABC replaced All My Children from 1-2
p.m. each day with The Chew, a cooking show with a group of co-hosts
including Mario Batali. Live ratings-wise, The Chew is doing about the
same as All My Children was. It is averaging 2.2 million viewers compared
to All My Children's 2.4 million, but it also has a median age of 59,
two years older than the soap opera's median age viewer. Some buyers have said
that while the network touts those live numbers as being close to equal, All
My Children
was drawing a significantly larger audience when DVR
viewing is factored in.

ABC also replaced One Life to Live with The
a lifestyle talk show that helped women lose weight and
increase their self-esteem. It failed to draw a large enough
audience and has been cancelled.

One Life to Live,
with a median age of 54, was averaging 2.5 million viewers, including
837,000 viewers 18-49 and one million viewers 25-54. The Revolution,
with a median age of 58, which will stay on the air until July 6 when
it will be replaced by an afternoon version of Good Morning America,
is averaging 1.3 million viewers, with 401,000 18-49 viewers and 518,000 25-54

ABC is now hoping that its afternoon version of GMA
will be able to challenge rival CBS' The Talk, which airs in the
same 2 p.m. time period. The Talk is also not doing as well as One
Life to Live
when it aired. The Talk is averaging 2.1 million
viewers, the same as it did in its first season, which is a good sign. But the
talk show, which has a group of co-hosts also aged up two years since last
year, now has a median-age audience of 58.

The View, which airs at 11 a.m. on ABC, averages 3.5
million viewers, down just slightly from 3.6 million last season, but it too
has aged up two years since the year before to a median age audience of 61.

The most-watched soap opera of the remaining four is CBS' The
Young and the Restless
, which draws 4.3 million per episode, down about a
half million from 4.8 million last season. It has lost an equal number of
viewers 18-49 and 25-54, but its median age has remained constant at 58.

CBS also has the next most-watched soap in The Bold and
the Beautiful
, which averaged 3.1 million viewers per episode, up from 3
million last season.

NBC's Days of Our Lives and ABC's General Hospital
both have about the same number of viewers, although Days this season
has aged up significantly. General Hospital averages 2.3 million viewers
per episode, while Days averages 2.4 million. Both are down slightly
from last season and have seen the median age of their viewers rise. General
Hospital has a median age viewer of 54 this season, up from 52, while Days
has a median age viewer of 58, up from 53.

CBS continues to be the only network with games shows,
airing two half hours each of Let's Make a Deal from 10-11 a.m. and The Price
Is Right
from 11-12 p.m. Let's Make a Deal draws an average
2.3 million viewers for each of its two half-hour shows each day, while The Price
Is Right
draws an average of 4.6 million viewers per show. They both
have median age audiences north of 60, with the Price Is Right having
the older audience with a median age of 63.

With the remaining four soap operas, the concerns are less
with overall audience erosion than they are with the aging up of the audience. It
seems the viewers they are losing are younger. That's why they are hoping that
the talk shows might bring in younger viewers, but that hasn't been the case

"The consensus that the daytime soap operas are all
washed up is somewhat true," says Billie Gold, VP, director of
buying/programming at Carat. "Women today don't have the time to commit to
a five-day-a-week storyline. Ratings have been falling for years as more women
enter the workforce or stay-at-home moms engage their children in play dates
and social activities outside the household. Moms available to watch TV have so
many viable cable choices at a click of the remote, while other moms choose to
watch shows with their children."

Brad Adgate, senior VP, director of research, at
Horizon Media agrees. "Soap operas harken back to a simpler time when a
woman could devote several hours a day, five days a week to watching a
continuing storyline," Adgate says. "Today, so many women are working
outside the home. They are helicopter parents, coming and going and whatever
shows the kids are watching when the moms are home, the mothers sit down and
watch them too."

While the four soaps have seemingly stemmed the tide for a
while, it is probably just a matter of time before the networks make them
disappear too.

"All daytime shows have a median age of 50 or more and
all of the soaps are close to 60," Adgate says. "And the daytime
audience is never going to get any younger. Right now, if the ad pricing is
right, advertisers can still buy daytime and get enough of a younger audience
in the total to make it worthwhile. But it's hard to say how long that will
continue. That's why they are trying to put shows on with product

From an investment/cost standpoint, Gold says, "The
networks stand to pull in a lot more money from a talk show or cooking show,
because not only are they cheaper to produce but there are many more
opportunities for product placement and sponsorships."

Sadly for the soaps, winning Emmys is no assurance that the
networks will keep them around. CBS' The
Guiding Light
won an Emmy in its final season, while As the World Turns won two -- for Best Actor and Best Actress -- but
that didn't result in the network brass changing their minds about cancelling
it. So this year's impressive five Daytime Emmy wins by ABC's General Hospital -- for Best Drama, Best
Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Directing
Team -- is no guarantee that there will be any long-term security for the
network's lone remaining daytime soap.

Gold believes the networks are at a crossroads in daytime.

"As they continue to cancel the soap operas, they
are going to flood daytime with more talk, game and cooking shows, making
it especially hard to garner a large share of audience," Gold says. "And
right now, they don't seem to have any other genre to replace them with.
Maybe giving the stations back some hours in the daypart may be more of an
option for them in the future."