Soap Nets Cliffhanger: Wholl Carry Them?

The Walt Disney Co.'s SoapNet unveiled its program
lineup for its launch next Monday (Jan. 24), while its rival, Sony Corp.'s SoapCity,
remained mum about its debut plans.

At press time, neither one of the 24-hour soap-opera
channels, which will air same-day reruns of daytime serials, had announced any major
distribution deals for their actual launches.

While SoapNet, part of Disney/ABC Cable Networks, does have
a carriage deal with DirecTV Inc. as part of retransmission-consent pacts for ABC-owned TV
stations, it won't start getting carried on the direct-broadcast satellite service
until later this year, in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, SoapNet's direct competitor, SoapCity,
declined to talk about its launch plans last week. SoapCity has said that it would
premiere this month, but so far, it hasn't cited a specific launch date, released the
names of any affiliates or described its exact program lineup.

Both SoapNet and SoapCity plan to air same-day reruns of
daytime soaps at night. For example, SoapNet will rebroadcast ABC soaps All My Children,
One Life to Live
, General Hospital and Port Charles.In turn,
SoapCity is slated to do same-day reairings of The Young and the Restless.

A spokesman for Sony's Columbia TriStar Television
Group said SoapCity would be making an announcement about its plans in the next two to
four weeks. But sources said SoapCity, unlike SoapNet, is apparently not going to launch
under the traditional basic-cable-network model.

Although he wasn't available for comment last week,
Michael Fleming, president of Sony's Game Show Network, which is handling
SoapCity's distribution, has previously said he was talking with cable operators
about offering the soap-opera service on a pay-per-view or "instant-subscription
basis." Last August, Fleming said, "We're positioning this service in a
different way."

ABC aired promos for SoapNet last week that gave viewers a
phone number to call to request the 24-hour soap-opera channel.

Disney and ABC are offering cable operators retransmission
consent for ABC-owned stations in exchange for carriage of SoapNet. In fact, Disney is
currently in the midst of negotiating a new retransmission-consent deal with Time Warner
Cable -- talks that reportedly may be hung up, in part, on the issue of SoapNet carriage.

Time Warner's old retransmission-consent pact with ABC
expired Jan. 1. But Disney and ABC granted the MSO an initial 15-day extension, which was
set to expire Jan. 15. Last Wednesday, Time Warner obtained a second extension, until Feb.
15, according to MSO spokesman Mike Luftman.

SoapNet will launch at 7 p.m. next Monday with its original
show, Soap Center, which is meant to take viewers inside the shows and behind the
scenes of the daytime serials. The show will be anchored in New York, with a satellite
stage in Los Angeles.

Typically, there will be one new Soap Center, which
will debut on Fridays, then be repeated the next Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

At 7:30 p.m. weeknights, SoapNet will then air same-day
repeats of Port Charles.Then SoapNet's primetime schedule will consist
of same-day repeats of All My Children at 8 p.m., One Life to Live at 9 p.m.
and General Hospital at 10 p.m. The network will repeat that block of four soaps
from 11:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. weeknights.

Weekday mornings from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., SoapNet will
rerun the prior day's episodes of the four shows.

During the weekends, SoapNet will run program blocks of all
five of the prior week's episodes of the ABC soaps. For example, from 6:30 p.m. to
11: 30 p.m. Saturdays, the Monday through Friday episodes of General Hospital will

New program services are having a harder and harder time
getting carriage. Home & Garden Television spinoff Do It Yourself, which debuted in
September, got one of its few major carriage deals only last week, with EchoStar
Communications Corp.'s Dish Network.

Disney Channel's Toon Disney debuted in April 1998
with 5 million homes. Geraldine Laybourne's Oxygen, which premieres Feb. 2,
expects to have 8 million to 10 million subscribers at launch.

Oxygen doesn't have a carriage deal with Time Warner
yet. Therefore, it doesn't have distribution in New York. But an Oxygen spokeswoman
confirmed that the network is talking with overbuilder RCN Corp. about getting carried in

Laybourne may have far better luck getting Oxygen carried
by Time Warner once its parent, Time Warner Inc., is acquired by America Online Inc. AOL
is an investor in Oxygen.