Paving the way for a 24-hour soap-opera channel, ABC next
month will start time-shifting its daytime shows, such as General Hospital and One
Life to Live, in tests at cable systems in Houston, Chicago and Charlotte, N.C.
The six-month test of "All My Soaps," which kicks
off July 1, will reach roughly 800,000 subscribers, according to ABC Daytime president Pat
Fili-Krushel. Time Warner Cable in Houston and Charlotte will have 293,000 and 170,000
homes, respectively, participating in the test. And Tele-Communications Inc. will add
another 300,000 subscribers in Chicago.
The ABC network, which has been eager to find ways to
"repurpose" its programming, unveiled its plan last week to test rebroadcasting
its soap operas on cable at its TV-station-affiliates' meeting in Orlando, Fla. The
offering will include All My Children, as well as Hospital and One Life.
ABC, which has been kicking around the idea of a soap-opera
channel for several years now, wants to do research to find out the impact of
time-shifting, according to Fili-Krushel, a veteran of Lifetime Television. ABC will
decide whether to proceed with the 24-hour channel based on its test results.
"We know that our affiliates are not jumping up and
down about us doing a cable channel," Fili-Krushel said.
ABC wants to find out if time-shifting will cannibalize the
daytime audience for the soaps -- a prime worry of ABC affiliates. In fact, Fili-Krushel
expects the time-shifted shows to attract "lapsed viewers," or people who once
watched the soap operas, but who had to stop because of a job or other changes in their
In Houston and Chicago -- where ABC owns KTRK-TV and
WLS-TV, respectively -- a three-hour block of that day's soap operas will be
rebroadcast on the cable systems that same night in primetime, as well as the next
morning. There will also be weekend marathons of that week's soaps, Fili-Krushel
In Charlotte, where the ABC affiliate is Cox Enterprises
Inc.-owned WSOC-TV, the soap operas will be time-shifted one week after they first air on
ABC. The network is doing that to explore whether soaps time-shifted one week later, which
is what some affiliates prefer, will lose their value to viewers after so long a lapse,
according to Fili-Krushel.
"There is a business on the [same] day and date,"
she said. "Soaps are used as water-cooler conversation. But is there a business with
a week's delay?"
ABC will work with Nielsen Media Research, metering homes
to collect quantitative data, as well as doing focus groups to gather qualitative
information in the test markets, Fili-Krushel said. It will share its research with the TV
WSOC general manager Bruce Baker said, "Everyone is
interested to see what the impact is. It could be positive -- another opportunity for
viewers to see ABC programming."
ABC and the participating cable systems will market
"All My Soaps" via cross-channel promos, billstuffers, monthly program guides,
radio and print ads and billboards in the test markets.
In Houston, Time Warner will move QVC off channel 47 to
another channel and air the time-shifted soaps there on expanded basic, public-affairs
vice president Pam Thorne said. In Charlotte, Time Warner will air the block on channel
70, which it had in reserve, on expanded basic, said public-affairs vice president Sue
Breckenridge. TCI officials in Chicago couldn't be reached for comment.
Your Choice TV, the time-shifting service owned by
Discovery Communications Inc., already rebroadcasts several ABC soap operas on a