SoapNet Washes Out

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The Walt Disney Co. will jettison
its decade-old SoapNet network in 2012 for
a new network targeted to preschoolers.

Now, it has to convince cable operators
that a Disney-branded channel featuring
Mickey Mouse is more valuable than sameday
repeats of Erika
Kane’s exploits on All
My Children
.

The company expects
to convert all 75
million subscribers of
technologically-challenged
SoapNet —
whose programming
reliance on repeats
from broadcast-based
afternoon serials such
as ABC’s All My Children
has made it all
but obsolete in a DVRand
online video-enhanced
world — to its
new Disney Junior network.
Disney Junior
will look to reach 3-to-
7-year-olds and their
parents with entertainment and educational
programming such as Mickey Mouse Playhouse.

Disney Channels Worldwide president
Carolina Lightcap said she’s confident Disney
Junior will meet its distribution goals
by launch. It’s unclear
whether Disney will
seek higher fees than
SoapNet’s current 12
cents per subscriber,
or try to package the
new service with other
kids-targeted networks
like Disney Channel or Disney XD or other
new services like ESPN 3D.

“Our affiliate sales team is very actively
working on that,” she told Multichannel
News
. “We think it’s incredibly exciting because
we think we can combine our focus on
learning and education with a new brand vision
that truly embraces the Disney brand
essence and brings the magical storytelling
and characters that kids and parents love so
much in a 24/7 environment.”

Cox Communications senior vice president
of programming Bob Wilson confirmed talks
with Disney regarding the switch out of Soap-
Net for Disney Junior, but added that the MSO
has not made a decision on the move.

The 24-hour Disney Junior schedule will
take the best programming from Disney
Channel’s early-morning preschool block
Playhouse Disney, including Handy Manny,
Special Agent Oso, Imagination Movers
and
Jungle Junction. Overall,
the network will
feature 200 new episodes
annually of existing
series as well as
new series such as Jake
and the Never Land Pirates.
It will also dip
into Disney’s vast array
of theatricals with
101 Dalmatians, Aladdin
and The Little Mermaid.

Disney is looking to
make a play in what has
become an increasingly
crowded marketplace.
The service will compete
for the attention of
the toddler set and their
parents with Nickelodeon’s
Nick Junior; PBS Kids Sprout, a joint venture
of Comcast Corp., HIT Entertainment,
PBS and Sesame Workshop; and Qubo, an alliance
of Scholastic, Ion Media Networks, NBC
Universal and Corus Entertainment.

The Hub, Discovery’s upcoming joint venture
with Hasbro, will
target a slightly older
kid audience when it
bows in October.

Sprout president
Sandy Wax told Multichannel
News
she’s not
concerned about Disney’s
foray into the category because there’s
enough room for numerous entities in the
kids space.

“We think that the U.S. market is underserved
in terms of cable TV offerings for children
so we welcome more choices for kids,” she
said, adding that the United Kingdom has numerous
kid-targeted channels. “We think there
are a lot of grown-up entertainment choices, so
kids and families deserve the same choices.”

As for SoapNet, Disney Media Networks
co-chair and Disney/ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney
said SoapNet’s time-shifted
programming strategy
had fallen victim to
new technologies such as
DVRs and multiplatform
viewing.

“SoapNet was created in
2000 to give daytime viewers
the ability to watch
time-shifted soaps, before
multiplatform viewing and
DVRs were part of our vocabulary,”
she said. “But today,
as technology and our
businesses evolve, it makes
more sense to align this
distribution with a preschool
channel that builds
on the core strengths of our
company.”

Disney/ABC Television Group Daytime
president Brian Frons told Multichannel
News
that SoapNet will continue to offer
same-day repeats of ABC soap operas All My
Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital
,
as well as NBC’s Days of Our Lives and
CBS’s The Young and the Restless. The network
also offers off-network dramas such
as Beverly Hills 90210, Gilmore Girls and The
OC
. He added that over the next two years
ABC will look to redirect viewers back to the
broadcast network, as well as online to ABC.
com and Hulu to view their favorite serials.

The decision to shut down SoapNet was
more about the potential branding and merchandising
opportunities that Disney Junior
would bring to an already strong kids-oriented
cable portfolio that includes Disney Channel
and Disney XD than about SoapNet’s
performance. SoapNet averaged
319,000 viewers in primetime during
first-quarter 2010, down from 344,000
during the same period in 2009.

“There’s nothing Anne [Sweeney]
said to me that was negative
about SoapNet or what it’s done —
I think the decision to change Soap-
Net to Disney Junior really revolves
around the bigger upside that a Disney-
branded channel off ers for the
company,” Frons said. “With our
soaps, we just make money off of
broadcast — there’s no real ancillary
revenue, not very much in the
international market or in merchandising.”

Passionate SoapNet fans will not
let the network fade away without a
fi ght. Petitions to save SoapNet have
popped up already on Facebook and
PetitionSpot.com. SoapNet’s own message
boards also feature comments from disgruntled
soap opera fans lamenting the eventual
demise of the network and calling for a boycott
of all Disney-owned channels.

“If they take away SoapNet, I will definitely
cancel anything having to do with
Disney, and will never watch their channels
again!” said one poster on the site identified
as anka63.

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