Are Prospect Park’s Plans to Move Soaps Online Doomed?

One Life to Live/All My Children (ABC)

One Life to Live/All My Children (ABC)

Are the Soaps Too Expensive to Move Online?

Prospect Park is moving full steam ahead with plans to launch “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” online. Prospect Park has bitten off more than it can chew, and the online versions of the soaps may not actually happen. The production company sent out those two contradictory messages on Thursday. The Wall Street Journal’s All Things D blog published a story that revealed that, just two months before the soaps are scheduled to debut on line, the company has yet to secure financing for the shows and the new The On-Line Network. A few hours later, the company announced that it signed four more actors to the on-line version of OLTL. What gives?

The WSJ article lays out the math behind Prospect Park’s venture.”An average hour of one of his soaps currently costs ABC around $160,000 to make, which is outrageously cheap for TV and fantastically expensive for the Web… Overall, he figures he’ll need around $80 million to produce both shows for a year, and $65 million in hand to start up production.”  That sounds daunting, yet by Hollywood and internet standards it’s not actually all that much. That’s less than the cost of a single summer blockbuster film. Tech companies like Google have been known to pay billions to acquire other companies. The article does not reveal how much money has already been raised, though it makes it clear that there are some investors on board. Said Prospect Park topper Jeff Kwatinetz, “A lot of the investor pool that we go to are people with Hollywood backgrounds,” he says. “And while we feel that it’s obvious that convergence is here, we’ve met with an unusual amount of skepticism. So now we’re going out to Silicon Valley, and they seem to get it.” That does not surprise me. The conventional Hollywood wisdom is that daytime soaps are dead, so why would any entertainment industry investors risk money on moving them on-line? Techies are less likely preconceived notions about soaps, and may be willing to look at the data objectively.

To me, the budget reveals what a great value soaps are. Last week, OLTL garnered a 1.1 rating among the key Women 18-49 demo. ABC’s big budget, heavily promoted primetime show “Pan Am,” whose pilot supposedly cost in the neighborhood of 10 million dollars — a somewhat misleading figure given that it includes the construction of the show’s sets –earned a 1.8 in its key demo of Adults 18-49 for its most recent episode. Let’s assume that a typical “Pan Am” episode costs three million dollars to produce. That means an episode of “Pan Am” costs 1870% more than an episode of OLTL for an 0.7 higher rating. Why is OLTL getting canceled while five more “Pan Am” scripts were just ordered? (I wish I could find Women 18-49 ratings for “Pan Am” so I could do an apples to apples comparison.) Instead of deciding the soaps are too expensive, networks should figure out how to adapt some of daytime’s affordable production techniques for primetime.

The blog also laid out how many viewers Prospect Park thinks will tune in on-line. “Both shows averaged around 2.5 million viewers an episode on ABC this year. But Kwatinetz thinks he can make a profit if he can just bring 10 percent of those eyeballs to the Web.” That is a more than reasonable expectation. I bet the real number might be closer to 25 percent, if the shows are properly promoted and creatively strong.

Finally, the article definitively disproved the myth that soap viewers don’t know how to use the internet. (Why that stereotype persists after soap fans did Arab Spring level social networking to save the shows is beyond me.) An independent research firm discovered that about half of current ABC soap viewers are already watching on-line video during daytime hours.

Here’s what I wish the article had addressed: what is going on with AMC? OLTL has signed deals with enough cast members to launch the show, as well as its Executive Producer and headwriter. All AMC has is two actors. I have heard a rumor that Prospect Park was surprised by how wary the cast was about continuing with the show on-line in comparison to the cast of OLTL. My entirely unsubstantiated theory is that the cast of AMC is demoralized.  They endured years of terrible writing and frequent headwriter changes.  They moved across the country only to have ABC cancel them a year later.  They got burned once, and are understandably afraid of getting burned again. If they want to return to New York, they can’t stay with the show. Without a critical mass of actors, it seems like it would be difficult to continue the show.

In contrast, OLTL has had the same people in charge for years. The show is creatively strong, They are accustomed to being the scrappy underdog. The show is on top of its game creatively, with its rise in the ratings and positive response from the fans. Why would anyone want to leave? Plus, if the actors want to stay in New York, OLTL is one of the few opportunities for steady work. It’s the only soap in the city. There are few primetime shows that currently tape in NYC, and theater pays very low salaries. I would bet money — though not 65 million — that the show will indeed continue on-line, though viewers may have to wait a few months.

Watch The Latest Episode Of “One Life To Live”:

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Agnes Nixon to guest star on One Life to Live

“One Life to Live’s” creator, Agnes Nixon, will guest star on the show before its ABC finale. TV Guide reports that the writer will play the very meta role of Agnes Dixon, creator of Llanview’s favorite soap, “Fraternity Row.” The soap within a soap was big part of OLTL during the late 1980s. Jessica Tuck, who will also make an appearance on the show, played its star Megan. Bo (Robert Woods) was the fictional soap’s producer. Fraternity Row often spoofed daytime, even staging a fictional awards show, The Daisys, that parodied the Daytime Emmys. Given OLTL’s penchent for self-referential humor, I would not be surprised if the storyline involved “Fraternity Row” getting canceled by the network and moving on-line.Thursday the character of Todd seemed to take a swipe at ABC Daytime’s new shows, saying that one of the ways that the world changed during his eight years in captivity is that “Successful daytime talk shows are completely obsolete.”

Nixon will appear on OLTL the week on January 9th. She also appeared on her other soap, “All My Children”, shortly before its cancellation playing Aggie, Pine Valley’s historian. Nixon has made one previous cameo on OLTL,playing God when Viki visited heaven for the show’s 40th anniversary in 2008.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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