SoapNet Aims Younger

SoapNet's soap opera-based content may appeal to grandma, but the network hopes its original fare will attract teen granddaughter Susie.

The network, known for recycling episodes of older-skewing daytime soap operas like All My Children, is taking aim at younger viewers through acquisitions and original programming like its first scripted series, General Hospital Night Shift, launching this summer.

New originals like Night Shift, as well as recent acquisitions like One Tree Hill and The O.C., are all part of the 63 million-subscriber network's strategy to reach out to young, female viewers.

“We've never been an older-skewing network, and we hope to get even younger with our new programming,” said network general manager Deborah Blackwell.

Indeed, despite its lineup of broadcast-network soaps like NBC stalwart Days of Our Lives — which tend to attract older female viewers during their daily afternoon runs — SoapNet, whose median age is 47, skews younger than Lifetime (51.4), is essentially equal with WE TV (46.9) and is older than Oxygen (39.2).

SoapNet has benefited in that vein from the April 9 launch of teen-targeted shows The O.C. and One Tree Hill, which were acquired earlier this year from Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution. Blackwell said the primetime series — which formerly aired on Fox and The CW, respectively — have lowered the network's median age during their weekday 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. runs to 26.7 years.

“Our goal [with the acquisitions] was to bring new, young viewers to SoapNet,” Blackwell said.

The network also expects its new originals to attract younger viewers. Featuring several young doctors that will reprise their roles on ABC's General Hospital and legendary actor Billy Dee Williams, SoapNet's first scripted series, the 13-episode General Hospital Night Shift, debuts July 12 at 11 p.m.

“The way we're structuring it, [Night Shift] will bring a certain pre-sold audience that loves General Hospital and wants to go deeper into the lives of some of their favorite younger doctors from the show,” Blackwell said. “But we've structured it so that you do not have to be an existing viewer of the show to enjoy it.”

Fashionista Diaries, a reality drama debuting Aug. 1, tracks the lives of interns working within the fashion industry. “We have our interns working on [Estée Lauder's] young-skewing cosmetics line Flirt!, as well as at Jane magazine, where the average reader is 20 years old,” she said.

The network also made its four-year-old competition series I Wanna Be A Soap Star more interactive to appeal to tech-savvy younger viewers. Soap Star, which returns Aug. 14, will for the first time televise its finale live and allow viewers to influence which contestant wins a role on NBC's Days of Our Lives.

“The viewers will be able to vote [via mobile phones] and influence who wins, taking the program up to the next level,” she said.

In addition, the network is teaming with EchoStar Communications' Dish Network to offer a six-city tour promoting the show.

With the two new series and a new season of Soap Star, Blackwell said 29% of the network's lineup is now original content. “Original programming is our top priority,” said Blackwell.

SoapNet will also jump into the cable video-on-demand space this fall, when some of its shows will be available to Comcast Digital Cable subscribers. The network already provides video-on-demand offerings of original content such as Soapography to Verizon Communications and overbuilders Wide Open West and PrairieWave Communications.

“We are talking to some of our affiliates about VOD — it's something that we're open to depending upon the overall [affiliate] deal,” Blackwell said.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.