Cancelled Soap Operas Take to the Internet. Is This The End of Broadcast TV?

You thought they were dead, but they were just in a coma. Or it was the evil twin. Or maybe it was a dream sequence, but the two once-dead soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live will find a new life online.

According to a Gizmodo article, the two ABC soaps, which were killed by the network this past spring, are going to be made available online instead. ABC has licensed both shows to Prospect Park, a production company that “promises all the shows will be just as long and just as ‘high quality’ online as they were on TV.”

While Casey Chan, the Gizmodo author, doesn’t “imagine soap opera watchers to be particularly good at using the Internet,” I think it’s a gutsy move, as opposed to moving to a cable network, like USA Network or WGN. I wonder if this could be the beginning of the end of broadcast television as we know it. Will more TV shows start migrating online? Will the “critically acclaimed” (that’s TV talk for “awesome show, sucky ratings”) shows find new life online, while regular TV is left with the same tired old clichéd dreck we’ve watched since 1983?

While I don’t know whether most soapies (soapers?) will have the ability to watch their favorite soaps online, I think this could be a great reason for them to start. And if they were smart, advertisers like Best Buy or Dell and cable companies would take advantage of this opportunity.

For example, Best Buy or Dell should run commercials during these soaps that say “you don’t have to miss your favorite soap. We have a laptop just for you.” Call it the One Life to Live or All My Children package — build it with enough RAM and a big enough processor, easy-to-use wifi, and a browser that comes preloaded with shortcuts to the OLL and AMC streaming sites.

After I heard the news, I was talking with our new intern, Cody (@CAustinMiller), about the possibilities, and we thought of all the possibilities this venture held for Prospect Park.

Production costs are greatly reduced

A typical TV show is shot on giant TV cameras, which are easily $100,000 dollars a pop. But this year’s season finale of House was shot entirely on a Canon 5DmkII digital camera.

One of those cameras (body only) is $2,500. Lenses are several hundred to a few thousand dollars apiece. Similarly, the web series Odd Jobs is shot entirely with a Canon 7d ($1600 + lenses).

Imagine shooting an entire show for a fraction of the cost of a single TV camera. Since very few people are watching an Internet-only TV show on HD plasma TVs, the need for the giant cameras is reduced.

Better video equipment means better story settings and language

If you’ve got these small handheld cameras, imagine shooting some scenes outside, without worrying about a sound stage and all those cables and production crew. A boom mike, digital audio recorder, and a digital camera, and you’re all set.

And you’re no longer bound by studio Standards and Practices people who say you can’t use certain words on television. Want to drop the F-bomb? Fire away. Want the s-word? Let ‘er fly. Online means you can say whatever you want without S&P dropping the hammer on you. (Of course, you have to make sure you don’t offend your audience.)

Advertisers can reach targeted audiences

This is worth a blog post in itself. Imagine these scenarios:

  • To watch the shows, users have an account where they provide some basic demographic information: age, sex, race, location, income, family status, etc. Show producers can go beyond providing basic demographic info to their advertisers — “we think it’s mostly white women between the ages of 25 – 45” — and provide actual counts and percentages.
  • Thanks to today’s web technology, advertisers can deliver specific ads to specific people watching on specific browsers. Send diaper ads to new mothers, life insurance ads to women in their 40s, luxury car ads to people who make a certain amount of money. Go read up on Facebook advertising for more ideas on how this works.
  • Advertisers can offer special coupons and codes during the show. These ads and coupons can even appear in a sidebar in the browser window. These can all be based on the viewer’s demographic information.
  • Marketers can then track click-throughs and follow the visitor’s path all the way through to the contact page or purchase page. They can determine that X number of people ordered our product while they were watching All My Children at 2:37.
  • I just had a EUREKA! idea: Put a shopping cart right in the browser sidebar window. When a small product is advertised on the show — say, the latest Danielle Steel novel — viewers can fill out the shopping cart without ever leaving the viewing window, order the book, and have it shipped, all during the show. It’s the ultimate in impulse purchasing.
  • Product placement is much easier and less expensive for marketers. Since the production company can call the shots without having to involve the network executives, they can sell product placements for a fraction of the cost of TV spots, but make a bigger piece of the pie.

Sell subscriptions to the shows

This is a chance to test the loyalty of the shows’ viewers: sell monthly subscriptions — say $2.99 per month — to viewers for ad-free episodes. Otherwise treat each episode like a regular TV episode: splits in the shows where they usually happen, with 2 – 3 minutes of advertisements. But monthly subscriptions can also offset production costs and help pay for the episode. If enough people opted for the monthly subscription, it may also show advertisers that viewers don’t want ads, which means they have to be more clever in how they reach those viewers: more product placement, sidebar ads, etc. This could also help the production company find new revenue sources as advertisers scramble for a way to reach this now-clearly defined audience demographic.

Crowdsource the writing

Many years ago — and I can’t remember when or what show — viewers got to vote whether a certain character lived or died. They called in, cast their votes, and the story unfolded to the majority’s wishes. Now, imagine having an online poll that allows viewers to vote on a particular story line. Does Trent live or die? Is Ashlyn’s evil twin really Ashlyn? Does Trent marry Ashlyn?

It’s one more method of interaction, and one more way to keep viewers involved and coming back. Maybe they could even shoot two endings to a storyline or episode, and let the viewers vote for which ending that gets shown. As a bonus, let people watch the ending that didn’t get aired after the episode is over. Again, more interactivity, more content for viewers to consume, which keeps them coming back.

I’m really excited to see what sorts of developments will come out of this new deal (not enough to watch soaps, mind you, but still, fairly excited). Prospect Park has said they will begin airing All My Children online starting September 26, after it makes its final TV appearance on Friday, September 23. I’ll be interested to see what kinds of ideas they come up with, and whether the Internet may be a great new frontier for TV shows that can’t survive the picky whims of studio executives who worry more about ratings than actually showing good television.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He co-authored three social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.