Beginning January 24, 2000, the Walt Disney Co. will launch an all soap opera cable television channel. The decision to launch the channel comes only a few months after the company conducted tests of an all soaps channel in the Chicago and Houston areas.
The soap opera channel will run twenty-four hours a day, but the focus of the programming will be the ABC soaps All My Children, One Life to Live, General Hospital, and Port Charles. There are plans to rebroadcast the daily installments during primetime hours.
"The soap opera channel can be to its fans what ESPN is to sports fans," said Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks. ABC and Disney are partial owners of ESPN.
Concern has been raised that airing daily installments of the soaps might hurt the soaps' daytime ratings, the numbers that determine how much to charge advertisers. The test campaign of "All My Soaps," conducted earlier this year, actually showed that the soaps' ratings rose. The reason, experts say, is that more people were getting the opportunity to get hooked on the soaps---so they were tuning in during the day.
With twenty-four hours of programming to fill, the network can obviously not show the current day's episodes over and over. It is expected that the still-unnamed cable channel will air feature films and even a few original programs. Soap fans are obviously hoping for the rerunning of classic episodes of their favorite soaps.
AMC, GH, and OLTL have all been on the air for well over two decades. Actually, it's closer to three decades. Younger fans probably haven't gotten a chance to see how their favorite soaps began. A few years back, ABC ran classic episodes under the name "A Daytime to Remember" after The City was cancelled. The classic episodes ran for three months while ABC prepared for the launch of Port Charles.
Another potential benefit for the network is the ability to introduce new soap Port Charles to the entire nation. To this point in time, affiliates have been given the option as to whether or not they want to air Port Charles. A great many markets are not airing the soap, so a lot of people have never seen a single episode of the soap. Port Charles has made gains in the recent ratings reports, but the show currently ranks tenth out of eleven soaps. Only NBC's Sunset Beach ranks lower.
In addition to the current soaps, ABC could also air some of the shows that are not currently on the air. Ryan's Hope, The City, Loving, and The Edge of Night all could potentially find new life on the soap channel.
There's no question that there is a market for the soap opera channel. Millions of soap fans tune in to get their daily fill of their favorite shows. Countless others record the shows for later viewer. And even more check in to soap magazines and sites like Soap Opera Central to get the latest news and recaps. There is the possibility, however, that the network could receive a lot of flack from its affiliates if daytime numbers drop.
Another potential pitfall for the channel is that it will apparently only show ABC soaps. Since Disney is the parent company of ABC, it is highly unlikely that any other programs will be shown. This alienates NBC and CBS soap viewers from the network. At the same time, though, it does give ABC the opportunity to lure some of the other networks' viewers.