Daytime soaps no longer cleaning up

'View' has grown, 'Price' is steady, others show loss

It may be the year of the drama in primetime, but in daytime it’s anything but.

Through the first six weeks of the new fall season, 12 of 14 network daytime series are showing losses vs. last year in key young-women demos, and all 12 of them are dramas. The only two net series that are flat or up vs. last year are the only two non-dramas on the current daytime schedule.

ABC’s “The View” is the only growth story so far this fall, up 17% vs. last year in women 18-49 with a 1.4 rating, 12 share vs. last year’s 1.2/12. The improvements are due in part to upgraded clearances in some markets as that talk series builds a following. CBS gamer “The Price is Right” is holding steady at 1.7/15 in that demo.

“Soap operas are particularly fragile because they require frequency of viewing,” explained one industry research analyst. “People think a 15% drop means 15% fewer people are viewing, but it usually means a show’s ongoing audience is watching 15% less frequently.”

Many factors

Such drops in frequency often result from news preemptions, such as last year’s Clinton scandal and impeachment proceedings, which sent soaps into a tailspin from which they’ve yet to pull out, and more recently the aircraft crashes involving golfer Payne Stewart and EgyptAir Flight 990.

Tougher cable competition, ever-spicier syndication alternatives and booming employment rates are also taking their toll on daytime viewership, the analyst noted, adding that afternoon syndie talk shows are subject to the same forces and are down by even steeper percentages this fall.

Those losses are drawing attention to the relative progress of daytime’s few non-drama offerings. NBC has, in fact, tapped former “Today” senior producer Linda Finnell to the new position of senior v.p. of non-fiction daytime programming, to explore daytime opportunities presented by talk shows, gamers and magazine programs.

Demographic differences

It’s NBC, in fact, that’s encountered the biggest daytime-drama losses so far this fall, down 20% in women 18-49 with its three soaps. However, the Peacock is hoping to turn things around with the addition of “Passions” (1.2/8 in women 18-49, down 25% vs. last year’s “Another World” results, but up 50% in female teens). Last week, “Passions'” 17th on the air, saw the rookie soap lather up to its best women 18-49 results to date (1.3/9).

By the end of the year the Peacock will also have axed “Sunset Beach” (0.7/6 this fall, down 36%, due in part to slot shifts in some markets). Not surprisingly, NBC is considering non-drama fare to replace it.

The overall erosion for daytime dramas suggests some challenges could be in store for a pair of upcoming cable services planning to cater to soap fans. Both Disney/ABC’s SoapNet and Columbia/TriStar’s Soap City are scheduled to launch in January with same-day repeats of network daytime dramas as the cornerstone of both schedules.

Growth from “The View” has helped ABC increase its overall daytime advantage in women 18-49. Over the past six weeks, ABC is averaging a 2.4/18 in women 18-49 (down 8% vs. last year), to widen the gap over CBS’ 2.2/17 (down 12%) and NBC’s 1.6/11 (down 20%).

Among younger women, though, it’s a wide-open race. CBS and NBC are tied for first this fall in women 18-34 with a 2.0 rating each, while ABC trails with a 1.8.

CBS remains in control of the daytime households race, as it has for more than 10 years. The Eye’s “The Young and the Restless” (6.2/24 this fall, down 7%) remains daytime’s top series by that measure.

The top dramas at each net are all suffering double-digit losses this fall.

ABC’s “General Hospital” and CBS’ “Young and the Restless” remain tied for first in women 18-49, both with 3.0 rating and both down 14% vs. last fall. NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” and ABC’s “All My Children” are the next-highest-rated daytimers with 2.8 averages, both down 15% vs. last year.

NBC’s “Later Today,” not considered part of that net’s daytime lineup because of its early 9 a.m. start time, has thus far this fall matched the slot’s anemic year-ago results for “Leeza” in households (2.0/9).

‘Pokemon’ saves Saturdays

Meanwhile, in Saturday morning results Oct. 30, Kids’ WB captured its highest kids 2-11 rating ever with a 7.9/28 for the hit “Pokemon.”

That kept Kids WB in a competitive second position for the morning with a 4.2/18 to Nickelodeon’s 4.4/19. Thanks to “Pokemon,” Kids’ WB so far this fall has more than doubled its year-ago kids demos.

Fox Kids’ premiere of “The Avengers,” adapted from the Marvel Comic series, won its slot among kids 2-11, capturing a 3.7/17.