Emmys channel daytime’s traumas

As the ratings turn, networks plot new schemes

The press release appeared innocuous.

Last November, the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences announced that CBS would air the 34th annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards. For the second consecutive year, the kudos were being held in Hollywood.

Oh, and one other thing, the Academy added: The awards would take place June 15.

You could almost hear the dramatic cliffhanger music in the background as daytime insiders digested the news. Though no mention was made in the release, the Eye’s decision to broadcast the show in June meant that, for the first time in 15 years, daytime’s biggest night was being pushed out of its marquee slot in the middle of the May sweeps — and into the dog days of summer.

CBS execs said the shift was for the show’s own good. Kudocast had been getting walloped by firstrun fare as nets jockeyed for maximum ratings advantage in the closing days of the season. Last year, barely 6 million viewers bothered to tune in, despite host net ABC’s best efforts to juice up the broadcast.

But it’s hard to believe numbers for the show will be much better on a Friday night in the summer. Instead, the Eye’s move is best seen as yet another example of just how tough things have become in daytime TV.

Collectively, the total average viewership for the nine daytime sudsers is down about 2% this season. Declines are much steeper among key demos: In women 18-34, the sudsers are down about 15%, according to Nielsen.

CBS Daytime topper Barbara Bloom isn’t ready to press the panic button just yet, however.

“I think daytime (ratings) mirror the same struggles that are happening across the board in network TV,” she says. “We continue to have strength in reaching households, and we have some strengths and weaknesses in demos.”

Indeed, with recent headlines screaming of dramatic dips for a number of primetime hits, it’s clear that audience erosion isn’t limited to specific dayparts. And as numbers for primetime hits such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Heroes” prove, viewers are clearly hungry for sudsy, serialized storytelling.

If anything, daytime has been a sort of canary in the coal mine for broadcasters about the way viewers watch TV. Daytime’s declines over the past decade have hinted at the seismic shifts in viewing patterns to come, as auds adjust to nearly limitless program options and technological changes.

Bloom’s counterpart at ABC, Brian Frons, says daytime remains “a very viable business” for the Alphabet, thanks to the net’s multiplatform approach to the daypart — and the fact that it owns its shows. All ABC sudsers get a second run on cabler SoapNet — letting the Alphabet collect two sets of ad revenues, not to mention cable subscriber fees.

“We’re able to aggregate those revenues, plus the money we get from international, and have a healthy bottom line,” Frons says.

He even suggests that when you add in numbers from people watching soaps on DVRs or different platforms, daytime is actually “a growing audience.”

“The issue facing the industry is the monetization of the cumulative ratings we get,” Frons says, noting advertisers pay less for cable auds and, as of now, not a dime for people who watch shows via DVRs.

Frons argues that it’s really just one net — NBC — that’s dragging down daytime’s rep.

“It’s not a network that has a big commitment to the daypart, and it shows,” Frons says. He cites as proof the net’s recent cancellation of “Passions” (which is headed to DirecTV in the fall) and NBC U supremo Jeff Zucker’s prediction that “Days of Our Lives” will likely end its Peacock run in 2009.

But simply having a better business model (like ABC) or higher-rated shows (like CBS) won’t be enough to keep daytime out of danger.

Industry insiders say the nets need to continue to embrace new technologies in order to make their sudsers easier to watch. That’s why CBS now offers audio of some its sudsers as podcasts, and why both ABC and CBS have created reality shows (“InTurn,” “I Wanna Be a Soap Star”) to lure new auds.

Nets are also continuing to refine the way they tell stories in daytime. CBS, for example, has a primetime vet (Lynne Marie Latham) overseeing the writing on “The Young and the Restless,” while “As the World Turns” has experimented with more close-ended story arcs.

“You have to send a message that the entertainment you’re offering is relevant to viewers’ lives,” Bloom says.

Frons points to one of his unscripted daytime dramas — the sudser that is “The View” — as an example of how shows don’t have to be in primetime to bring in buzz and viewers. Thanks to soon-to-depart moderator Rosie O’Donnell, the ABC gabfest has experienced double-digit ratings growth this year.

“I think ‘The View’ shows that if you really speak intelligently to women, and engage them in a thought-provoking way, you can draw them back to the screen,” Frons says.

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